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Tenrikyo 天理教 is a religious organization located in Tenri City, Nara Prefecture, Japan, that bases itself on the revelations of Miki Nakayama (1798–1887) and Izo Iburi (1833–1907).

Character by character analysis of term

The name "Tenrikyo" is assumed to derive from the divine name of God as taught through Miki Nakayama—Tenri-O-no-Mikoto.

"Tenrikyo" is composed of three kanji characters:

  1. Ten : "heaven"
  2. ri "reason, justice, truth, principle"[1]
  3. kyō  "teaching."

While the combined term "Tenri" 天理 ("truth of heaven") is regarded in the tradition as the metaphysical means through which God's protection and workings are deployed and manifested [2], Tenri generally means the "law of nature" and "the way of nature that governs all things."[1][3]

"Kyo" is a common Japanese suffix found in many religions: Yudayakyo = "teaching of Judea," i.e., Judaism; Bukkyo = "teaching of Buddha," i.e., Buddhism; Kiristokyo = "teaching of Christ," i.e., Christianity.

"Tenrikyo" has been rendered in English in a variety of ways, including: "the Teaching of the Heavenly Reason" (Greene)[4], "Religion of Divine Wisdom" (van Straelen)[5], and "Teachings of Divine Truth."[6]

Basic beliefs and central practices

One of the main characteristics of Tenrikyo belief is that it is purported to be based on the "direct" revelation of God, Tenri-O-no-Mikoto, through founder Miki Nakayama (who is referred to as Oyasama by Tenrikyo adherents). This idea of a direct revelation is expressed in Scripture that God had become "openly revealed" through Oyasama as God's "Shrine."[7] Although Tenrikyo accepts the validity of other religious faiths as "nine-tenths of the complete teachings," Oyasama's revelation is said to comprise the "final teaching" that will allow human beings accomplish the purpose of creation.[8]

Purpose of creation

Tenrikyo maintains that God enacted creation to see humanity live the Joyous Life, an existence of mutual harmony and respect. This divine intention behind creation is also referred to as the "original causality" or "original cause."

Relationship between God and humanity

Tenri-O-no-Mikoto is also referred as "Oyagami-sama" (or "God the Parent" in English), symbolizing the relationship between God and human beings. God is considered the Parent of all human beings, and everyone across the globe are brothers and sisters in God's eyes.

It is also taught that the providence of God was not only responsible for the creation of the world and humanity, but also continued to nurture "human beings" into our present state. The providence of God is categorized into "ten aspects" and given its own sacred name. Each of these ten aspects has a description of the protection it provides for both the human body and the natural world as well.

Body and mind

Another central Tenrikyo belief is that the body does not ultimately belong to each individual, but instead is "a thing lent, a thing borrowed" from God during one's lifetime. Yet the mind is said to belong to each individual ("the mind alone is yours") and falls under the realm of human responsibility. All misfortune is said to result from "misuse" of the mind for purposes contrary to God's original intention behind creation.

Beliefs on the afterlife

The Tenrikyo worldview includes belief in "rebirth," which may be compared to ideas concerning reincarnation in Hinduism and Buddhism to some degree. Yet it must be mentioned that the terms "reincarnation" or "afterlife" are not usually used by Tenrikyo adherents. The Tenrikyo worldview does not include beliefs in realms other than the living world, i.e., there is no belief in heaven(s) or hell(s).
When a person passes away, the spirit of the person is said to be "embraced" by God until he or she is ready to be reborn. When a baby is born into a Tenrikyo family, there is sometimes speculation who the baby might be. Things such as birthmarks or similar traits (such as a laugh) with deceased family members can take on a deeper significance. Further, at weddings, it is sometimes said that the bride is "returning" to the family she belongs to through the marriage.
Everyone is said to be reborn except Oyasama. Her status is considered special; she is considered to be "everliving."
Tenrikyo followers use the Japanese term denaoshi (come again, make a fresh start) when someone passes away. This is translated as "passing away for rebirth" in English.


According Tenrikyo teachings, human beings were first conceived at Jiba (literally, "place", "locale"), the spot which is marked by a six-sided wooden pillar called the Kanrodai (literally, "sweet dew stand") that Tenrikyo adherents focus their prayers toward in the Main Sanctuary of Tenrikyo Church Headquarters. While "Jiba" originally meant this specific location, the meaning of the term has expanded in that is now used to refer to the surrounding general area that includes Tenrikyo facilities such as lecture halls and followers dormitories.[9] The area, also dubbed as "Oyasato" (the Home of the Parent/Parental home) is considered the homeland of humanity by Tenrikyo followers. Thus, a pilgrimage to Tenrikyo Church Headquarters is called an "ojiba-gaeri" or "return to Jiba" and "okaerinasai" (welcome home) is a common greeting said to "returning" pilgrims, irrespective of the fact that it may be the pilgrim's first ever visit to Jiba.

Tenrikyo Service

The most central ritual in Tenrikyo is the "Kagura Service," where 10 masked dancers represent each of the "ten aspects of God's providence" with distinctive hand movements. The Kagura Service is conducted 14 times a year (on each 26th of the month, on New Year's Day, and on April 18, the day when founder Miki Nakayama's birthday is celebrated).

Tradition maintains that the Kagura Service can only performed at one place, in the Inner Sanctuary of Tenrikyo Church Headquarters with the Jiba-Kanrodai as center.

A seated version of the service (written with a lower case to differentiate from the Kagura Service conducted at Jiba) is performed twice daily at the Main Sanctuary and Tenrikyo branch churches around the world. The seated service is conducted in place of the Kagura Service for the monthly services of Tenrikyo branch churches and missions. The Service is believed to be the means through which human beings make a spiritual transformation upon clearing away "dusts"—a metaphor for self-centered mindsets that are counterproductive to God's original purpose for human existence.

The Teodori (literally, "hand dance") follows the Kagura Service at Tenrikyo Church Headquarters Monthly/Grand Services. The same Teodori is performed after the seated service at branch church monthly services.


As opposed to the Kagura Service/service that represents Tenrikyo's central ritual where adherents pray for manifold saving graces (yorozu tasuke), the Sazuke ("Divine Grant") is a prayer administered by adherents who are sanctified as missionaries (called Yoboku, "timber") to save people from physical ailments.[10]


Another central practice in Tenrikyo is hinokishin (literally, "contribution of the day"), the means through which adherents express their gratitude to God for the blessings they receive on a daily basis. Hinokishin ideally refers to any action undertaken to express this gratitude without expectation of any reward or even a word of thanks in return.

Religious texts

There are three central religious texts in the Tenrikyo canon: the Ofudesaki (The Tip of the Writing Brush), the Mikagura-uta (The Songs for the Service), and the Osashizu (The Divine Directions). These three texts are known as the Three Scriptures and considered to be the direct revelations of God.

Other important texts that are merely considered supplemental to the Three Scriptures include: Tenrikyo kyoten (The Doctrine of Tenrikyo), Kohon Tenrikyo Oyasama-den (The Life of Oyasama, Foundress of Tenrikyo—Manuscript Edition), and Kohon Tenrikyo Oyasama-den, itsuwa-hen (Anecdotes of Oyasama, the Foundress of Tenrikyo).

A brief history of Tenrikyo

Tenrikyo regards 10/26/1838 (lunar calendar) as the date of its founding, the date when Miki Nakayama's husband Zenbei complied with the wishes of God to receive Miki as a "Shrine of God." God first spoke through Miki during an "incantation" that began on 10/23 that was led by Ichibei Nakano, a renown shaman in northern Yamato Province (presently Nara Prefecture) who was praying on the behalf of members of the Nakayama family.

Tenrikyo currently celebrates the day of its foundation on every October 26 as the Autumn Grand Service. To Tenrikyo faithful, this grand service commemorates the day when Miki became the "Shrine of God" or the physical vehicle for the revelations of Tenri-O-no-Mikoto. To put it clearly from a Tenrikyo perspective, from this day onward, Miki's life, actions, and words are considered to come directly from the intention of God "to save all humankind." [11]

From this time on, Miki (hereafter referred to as "Oyasama"), who was looked upon as a model housewife until she became the Shrine of God, began to neglect her children and her duties, secluding herself in the family storehouse to have conversations with God. Oyasama was then ordered to "fall to the depths of poverty," dispensing the wealth of the Nakayama family through acts of charity to initiate the "path of single-hearted salvation." Oyasama's excessive charity resulted in her being derided as being possessed by a fox or tanuki spirit and as a god of poverty. Many others dismissed her as insane. Oyasama initiated the Grant of Safe Childbirth in 1854 for the sake of expectant mothers. She subsequently offered cures for a variety of illnesses and her reputation as a living god spread throughout the countryside of Yamato, which gradually allowed her to attract a devoted following.

Early struggles

Oyasama and her movement suffered from persecution in the early Meiji period (1868–1912) since her charismatic role as a "living god" proved to be incompatible with the policy of "civilization and enlightenment" adopted by the Meiji government to encourage Japan's transformation into a modern nation-state. As a result, Oyasama openly challenged local Shinto priests over the legitimacy of the new Meiji government.

Laying the foundations of the Tenrikyo worldview and social organization

In the Scripture the Ofudesaki, Oyasama criticized the "high mountains" (authorities) for obstructing her efforts and those of her followers from accomplishing God's vision for humanity of (identified in the Ofudesaki as "Kami," God/divinity; "Tsukihi," Moon-Sun; and "Oya," Parent). Oyasama also promulgated an innovative creation story—variously known as Moto hajimari no hanashi (story of the beginnings of origin/Story of Creation) or Doroumi koki (the chronicles of the muddy ocean)—that sharply stood in contrast from canonical Shinto creation narratives.

Together, the Ofudesaki and the Story of Creation provided a worldview which prophesized that the sweet dew (kanro) would fall upon Jiba when the hearts of humankind had been sufficiently purified in accordance to God's vision through the performance of the Tenrikyo Service (Tsutome). Oyasama had left instructions in the Ofudesaki on how to build the Kanrodai (sweet dew stand), the physical marker of Jiba. It was believed that when the sweet dew was mixed with barley flour in a vessel placed atop the Kanrodai, it would create a magical food that gave people the ability to live to the age of 115 years and beyond.[12]

During her lifetime Oyasama spontaneously bestowed sacraments called Sazuke, or grants, to a select number of her followers. Most of these Sazuke permitted a follower the ability to petition for God's protection for the purpose of healing illness.

However, Izo Iburi (1833–1907) was one of two followers who received a grant called Grant of Divine Utterance which allowed him to orally invoke the will of God. In the years preceding her passing, Oyasama sent to Izo followers who sought advice relating to everyday mundane concerns while she concentrated on instructing in religious matters, most notably the Tenrikyo creation story. Oyasama also trained leading followers who were known as "intermediaries" who instructed beginners in the basics of her teachings.

Oyasama's "withdrawal from physical life"

When Oyasama died in 1887, because newer converts were already accustomed to receiving instruction from others, her passing was arguably not as traumatic to them as it was for elder followers. Nevertheless, Oyasama's passing was unexpected as it was widely believed by her adherents that she would be able to live to be 115 years old, the "natural term of life" recorded in the Ofudesaki.[13]

To account for why Oyasama failed to live to this age and "withdrew from physical life" at age 90, Izo explained that she "cut short the 25 years of life that was to be" so that her followers could openly conduct the Tenrikyo Service without worrying over the possibility of the police coming to arrest her.[14] Izo also announced that Oyasama in the meantime would continue to lead the movement without a physical body, which established the fundamental Tenrikyo doctrine of the "everliving" Foundress. Izo promised the members he would continue to bestow the Sazuke in her place and that they could continue to communicate with Oyasama through his mediation.

Oyasama's "withdrawal from physical life" is an event in history that defines the Tenrikyo community in a manner that is comparable to Jesus' crucifixion for Christians and the Exodus for Judaism. The Spring Grand Service is conducted with full ceremony each year and scheduled to begin so that it ends at roughly 2:00 p.m., when the daily siren in Tenri City sounds to commemorate Oyasama's "withdrawal." Every 10 years, an "anniversary of Oyasama" is held. For more than 100 years, Tenrikyo followers "joined their sincere efforts and did everything in their power to prepare for the anniversaries of Oyasama, which they saw as marking crucial stages in their quest for spiritual growth."[15]

Tenrikyo leadership post–1887

While Izo Iburi, who came to be known as the "Honseki" (main seat) was primarily seen as Oyasama's proxy concerning spiritual matters in her physical absence, Oyasama had designated her grandson Shinnosuke Nakayama (1866–1914) to occupy a position she had named "Shinbashira" (literally, "central pillar") to be the group's temporal representative. As a certified doctrinal instructor, Shinnosuke was recognized as the administrative superintendent of Tenrikyo, which was a "church" subordinate to the Shinto Honkyoku (Shinto Central Bureau) since 1886. While some observers have claimed Shinnosuke initially refused to accept Izo's role as the designated spiritual mediator between the believers and God[16], the roles of the two individuals came to compliment one another.

Followers inquired the Honseki about personal affairs such as illness and he offered spiritual guidance in response as early as 1880.[17] After Oyasama's withdrawal from physical life, it was also Izo's role to give God's authorization to administrative decisions concerning rituals and the appointment of ministers. Under the united leadership represented by Izo as the source of authority on spiritual matters and Shinnosuke as the administrative head, Tenrikyo grew from a loosely connected network of fellowships into a vast pyramidal hierarchy of branch churches within 10 years of Oyasama's passing. Missionaries who founded the first Tenrikyo branch churches in late 1888 and in 1889 cured a variety of illnesses with Sazuke prayers, leading to an exponential growth in membership.

In Tenrikyo histories, Izo Iburi is portrayed as God's/Oyasama's mouthpiece after her withdrawal from physical life who helped guide the administrative leadership until the institution was able to stand on its own strength. Revelation is considered by the Tenrikyo leadership to have ended with Izo's passing, whereupon heirs to the Nakayama family—beginning with Shinnosuke and subsequently succeeded by Shozen 正善 (1905–1967), Zenye 善衞 (1932– ), and most recently Zenji 善司 (1959– )—have held and still continue to hold the title of Shinbashira.

Growth of the faith

Between 1891 and 1896, the number of Tenrikyo churches increased from 32 to 1,292 and were spread throughout every prefecture in Japan with the exception of Okinawa.[18] In the year 1896 the institution collected membership fees from 3,137,113 followers, or roughly eight percent of Japan's population.[19] The Home Ministry responded to Tenrikyo's explosive growth by issuing a directive in the same year to force a revision of its doctrine and ritual procedures. Izo authorized a number of compromises to Oyasama's teachings over the next several years as Tenrikyo petitioned repeatedly to attain its independence from the Shinto Honkyoku. Following the creation of a document (the so-called Meiji kyoten) that fully aligned its official theology with the ideology of State Shinto, Tenrikyo was finally recognized as the last Kyoha Shinto organization in 1908.

Tenrikyo was not completely free to practice its teachings until the end of World War II. The Shinbashira at the time, Shozen Nakayama, immediately declared the start of a movement ("fukugen") to "restore" Tenrikyo according to Oyasama's revelations. Tenrikyo officially withdrew from its government-imposed status as a Shinto organization in 1970[20] and is still in the process of restoration.

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 Spahn, Mark and Hadamitzky, Wolfgang. Japanese Character Dictionary. Tokyo: Nichigai Associates, p. 1113.
  2. 「天理」 "Tenri," 『改訂天理教辞典』 Kaitei Tenrikyo jiten, p. 578.
  3. 『新明国語辞典』 Shinmei kokugo jiten, fourth edition. Tokyo: Sanshōdō, p. 892.
  4. Greene, Daniel Crosby. "Tenrikyo, or the Teaching of the Heavenly Reason." Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan 23 no. 5.
  5. van Straelen, Henry. The Religion of Divine Wisdom. Kyoto: Vertias Shonin.
  6. "Tenrikyo: Teachings of Divine Truth" (pamphlet). Tenrikyo Church Headquarters.
  7. See Ofudesaki 01:003, Ofudesaki 03:136, Ofudesaki 13:092, Ofudesaki 16:039 and The Doctrine of Tenrikyo (tenth edition), pp. 12, 20.
  8. The Doctrine of Tenrikyo, p. 26.
  9. Fukaya, Yoshikazu. "Jiba, the Residence, the Home of the Parent—Returning to Jiba." Words of the Path: A Guide to Tenrikyo Terms and Expressions, pp. 15–17.
  10. Nagao, Takanori. "The Mikagura-uta (I)" Michi no dai 29 (2008), p. 37.
  11. The Doctrine of Tenrikyo, p. 3.
  12. 『増野鼓雪全集』 Masuno Kosetsu zenshu vol. 21, pp. 140–146.
  13. Ofudesaki 03:100.
  14. The Life of Oyasama, Foundress of Tenrikyo — Manuscript Edition (third edition), p. 241.
  15. Nakayama, Zenji. Instruction Two, p. 5.
  16. 小栗純子 Oguri Junko. 『中山みき:天理教』 Nakayama Miki: Tenrikyo. Tokyo: Shinjinbutsu Ōraisha, pp. 186–187.
  17. 天理教道友社編 Tenrikyo Doyusha, ed. 『天の定規 本席飯降伊蔵の生涯』 Ten no jogi: Honseki Iburi Izo no shogai, p. 53.
  18. 大谷渡 Oya Wataru. 『天理教の史的研究』 Tenrikyo no shiteki kenkyu. Osaka: Tōhō Shuppan, pp. 30–31, n. 30.
  19. あらきとうりよう編集部 Arakitoryo Henshubu. 「教祖御年祭をもとに教史を振り返る 第一部:教祖一年祭から教祖三十年祭まで」 "Oyasama go-nensai o moto ni kyoshi o furikaeru, dai-ichibu: Oyasama ichi-nensai kara Oyasama sanju-nensai made." 『あらきとうりよう』 Arakitoryo 209 (Fall 2002), p. 38.
  20. Bocking, Brian. A Popular Dictionary of Shinto. Surrey, England: Curzon, pp. 112–113.

Other references