In this continuation of our interview, Yasuaki Deguchi, grandson of Omoto leader Onisaburo Deguchi, describes Onisaburo’s initial forays into “spirit studies,” and some of his unusual philosophy. The strength of his grandmother Sumi’s character is revealed in his account of her years in prison following the Second Omoto Incident.
Yasuaki Deguchi, grandson of Onisaburo
Aikido Journal: Onisaburo taught Morihei Ueshiba chinkon kishin (lit. calming the spirit and returning to the divine), a mystical breathing and meditative practice for uniting the divine and human spirit. Where did Onisaburo learn this practice?
Yasuaki Deguchi: He received his knowledge of it from a revelation he had while engaging in ascetic practices on Mt. Takakuma. He also referred to a method of kishin mentioned in the section concerning Emperor Chuai in the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) and in the record of (nonreigning) Empress Jinko in the Nihonshoki (Chronicle of Japan).
After his retreat to Mt. Takakuma, Onisaburo returned to his hometown of Anao in Tamba (present-day Mie prefecture) and began training himself in chinkon kishin. It was rather dangerous in the sense that he was using his own mind and body as experimental testing grounds. Despite the danger, however, he was joined in this training by seven women, as well as his youngest brother, Kokichi. After a great deal of strenuous effort, each of the participants was able to achieve a certain feeling of unity with the kami (the divine).
A director from the headquarters of Inari Kosha [a religious association devoted to Inari, a deity of the cereals often represented as a fox] in Suruga (present-day Shizuoka prefecture) came to visit Onisaburo, having heard about these activities. The president of Inari Kosha, Katsutate Nagasawa, was a top disciple of Chikaatsu Honda, known as the restorer of “spirit studies” (reigaku). Upon learning that Nagasawa was continuing the chinkon kishin practices that Honda had revitalized, Onisaburo went to the Inari Kosha headquarters in Suruga. It was his first long journey away from Tamba.
Nagasawa was what we call a saniwa, a kind of medium who questions the spirits possessing a person to determine their authenticity and true identity. Onisaburo was a kannushi (representative of the kami; possessed person), and the two of them engaged in yusai exercises (two-person esoteric “spirit channeling” exercises). Nagasawa judged Onisaburo’s divine inspirations to be of a very high level and Onisaburo visited the Inari Kosha headquarters many times.
Onisaburo brought the practice of chinkon kishin with him when he formally entered the Omoto order in 1899. Encountering these spirit studies for the first time, the Omoto directors were extremely interested. A variety of people began practicing chinkon kishin, but as they began to experience divine inspirations, the Omoto order was thrown into somewhat of a pandemonium. You see, during such divine inspirations most spirits will appropriate the name of some other more “correct” spirit, which the inspired person will believe to be its true name and identity. The little country town of Ayabe was beset by a sort of divine rush-hour, and Onisaburo had great difficulty controlling this situation. The details of what happened then are in my book, Mother of the Earth. Eventually Onisaburo was able to convince people to refrain from practicing chinkon kishin.
It was only in 1916 that chinkon kishin began to be practiced in the Omoto order again, when Onisaburo taught it to Wasaburo Asano. Asano was a scholar of English literature who had graduated from Tokyo Imperial University (now Tokyo University). He entered the Omoto order and moved to Ayabe, where he developed a profound interest in chinkon kishin.
Because chinkon kishin is one of the fastest ways to verify the existence of kami and spirits the small Omoto order founded in Tamba found its way into the public eye and began developing into a much larger nationwide organization.
In fact, it was because of chinkon kishin that the Omoto order caught the attention of Morihei Ueshiba. In 1919 Ueshiba was in Hokkaido when he received news that his father had fallen critically ill. As he hurried home to Tanabe he heard rumors of “a great chinkon kishin master named Onisaburo in Ayabe.” He detoured to Ayabe in hopes of asking Onisaburo to pray for his father’s recovery. That was how the two of them first met. Ueshiba relocated to Ayabe the following spring. There he taught bujutsu at the now-famous Ueshiba Juku and began practicing yusai exercises such as chinkon kishin.
The police authorities, however, were beginning to take a rather negative view of chinkon kishin. On Onisaburo’s instructions the Omoto members began to limit their practice of it.
Aj: Is chinkon kishin currently practiced in the Omoto order or at Aizen-en?
Not as such. Many people come to Aizen-en hoping to practice chinkon kishin, only to be disappointed to learn that we no longer do it.
Chinkon and kishin together form a method of achieving unity with the divine, but the two actually have different objectives. Chinkon is essentially for gathering the spirits of souls wandering the ether into the seika tanden (the region of the abdomen roughly three inches below the navel). Kishin, on the other hand, endeavors to invoke or activate spirits. This is not a problem if you’re dealing only with your own spirit, but people have been known to become possessed by other spirits that they have invoked, and to say and do strange or abnormal things as a result. For that reason kishin can be quite dangerous and has caused a lot of problems in the past. That’s why Onisaburo eventually prohibited it. As I mentioned, some of these events are detailed in Mother of the Earth, and Onisaburo himself also wrote about such incidents.
Aj: Is there anything problematic about practicing chinkon by itself?
No, in fact, chinkon is one of the training methods we recommend at Aizen-en.
Onisaburo had many faces—religious leader, prophet, artist, poet. He was really exceptional in all of these roles, but I think his true province was as a philosopher.
When his eldest daughter Naohi entered primary school, the school sent out a form requesting the usual information about the family. In the space that said, “Father’s Occupation” Onisaburo wrote, “World Reformer.” That’s the kind of pride with which he seems to have viewed himself.
To reform the world, it is necessary to start by reforming people, so in addition to reforming the world, I think Onisaburo was confident that reform of people was his heaven-set task.
To reform people, it is necessary to start by reforming their values. Onisaburo’s own values were informed by an unshakable faith in the existence of kami and the spirit world. He often questioned those with more materialistic dispositions, asking them if they really supposed money and the rest of the material world to be so absolute and singular. He always urged such people to stop to consider whether there weren’t, perhaps, other more important realms.
Onisaburo’s assertions always seemed to hit the mark better than the common wisdom. For example, “a good wife and a wise mother” is an old Japanese phrase that has traditionally been used to describe a so-called “ideal home maker.” Onisaburo always reversed the expression to say, “a wise wife and a good mother.” His reasoning was that a typical “good wife and wise mother” is someone who agrees obediently with her husband, no matter what disagreeable or wicked things he does, and who tries to stuff her children with knowledge to the point that they end up with indigestion (like the “education mamas” we have in Japan today). Personally, I wouldn’t want a wife like that. My idea of an ideal wife (a “wise wife,” as Onisaburo said) is someone who understands her husband’s work, supports him, and speaks her mind when he’s about to make a mistake; a “good mother” warmly embraces her children and helps nurture them as individuals.
Here’s another example. Nobody questions the fact that parents give birth to their children, right? Nobody except Onisaburo, that is. He suggested that since the parents don’t actually become parents until a child is born, it is really the child who gives birth to the parents. But parents think that they are the ones giving birth, so they try to mold their children into miniatures of themselves. But just looking at it from the laws of evolution, children naturally have the potential for better education than their parents— grandchildren even more so—and for that reason should be more advanced. Strong-willed children try to break through the limitations framed for them by their parents, which is possibly one cause of domestic strife.
We use the word “living” but Onisaburo liked to point out that there is a difference between “living” and “merely surviving.” Living means making the most of the life given to you by the kami; surviving is nothing more than preserving your life and subsisting, which is something even animals do. Onisaburo thought that in many cases what we call “cultured lifestyle” is nothing more than survival covered by a veneer of “culture.”
Onisaburo also had an interesting view on capital punishment. Supporting the abolition of capital punishment are many fundamental questions like “How do you redeem the life of a person who has been wrongly executed?” and “Does anyone really have the right to take the life of another, no matter how great that person’s crime?” Onisaburo also opposed capital punishment, but for different reasons. He said, “People are made not only of flesh, but of spirit as well. Do you think a person who has been sentenced to die will express gratitude and gladly accept the punishment? No, I think they are much more likely to curse you and thereby increase the amount of bitterness and hatred in the world. You can destroy a person’s body, you see, but you cannot destroy the deep-seated grudge carried by that person’s soul. That resentful spirit will only become stronger and stronger, possessing others and making the world worse and worse. So killing a person has no real effect unless they can first be made to understand their own evil and accept their punishment willingly, from the bottom of their heart.”
As you can see, Onisaburo had many ideas that broke through people’s standard, preconceived notions—ideas that create bright ways of looking at life that most people probably would never have considered otherwise.
AJ: I think that Morihei Ueshiba was informed and inspired more by his feelings and intuition than by his intellect. The same might be said of his martial art. Whenever he lectured he would quote liberally from works such as Onisaburo’s Reikai Monogatari (Tales of the Spirit World) and the Kojiki, both of which are more spiritually than philosophically inspired. Even many Japanese people could make little sense of what he was talking about. But I think that even among non-Japanese who have no knowledge of Japan, there are people who can understand the things Onisaburo said.
Yes, I’m sure that’s true. In Italy there is a group called the Italia Okido Yoga Federation. It has about ten thousand members, primarily Italians. They have invited me to their summer camp every year since 1989 to lecture on Onisaburo’s thought. People come from around the world to participate.
AJ: How did you become involved in lecturing there?
One of the main instructors of the Italia Okido Yoga Federation, Yuji Yashio, happened across one of my books, Mother of the Earth, when he returned to Japan in 1988. That work is a biographical novel of Nao Deguchi’s life, and it also documents the first half of Onisaburo’s life. Mr. Yashio read that and became absorbed in Onisaburo’s ideas. Later that year, in the summer, he suddenly appeared at my home. He said, “Okido yoga is an excellent form of physical training, but I would also like to introduce Onisaburo’s brand of spirituality into it. Starting next year, I would like you to teach about Onisaburo’s thought at our annual summer camp.” That’s how I started going there.
The first time I lectured I was worried that my meaning would be completely lost in the process of interpretation. Even native speakers of Japanese may have difficulty understanding Onisaburo’s teachings, you know. Also, since Italy is an overwhelmingly Catholic nation, I really wondered whether my audience would be receptive to Onisaburo’s Shinto-based teachings.
But I suddenly recalled something Onisaburo once said: “Even current criminal law does not say anything about the crimes of one’s ancestors. Who can bear to carry the ancient sins of Adam and Eve?”
Christianity seeks in God an absolute standard of Good and Evil, and sin in Christianity originates with the story of the Fall of Adam and Eve. According to the Old Testament, it was because Adam went against the will of God that sin and death have become the fate of humanity. That is why people are said to carry the burden of sin from birth, which is known as Original Sin. People are said in Christian teachings to be “children of sin.” But Onisaburo taught that “people are the children and shrine of the kami.”
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