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Yasuaki Deguchi: The Omoto Religion and Aikido (12)

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by Ikuko Kimura

Aikido Journal #109 (Fall/Winter 1996)

In our ongoing effort to understand the thought of aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba, Aikido Journal has been studying those personalities who influenced his philosophical and spiritual views. Onisaburo Deguchi, late Seishi of the Omoto religion, was certainly the most important of these. Onisaburo’s grandson, Yasuaki Deguchi, has been of tremendous assistance in helping us understand aspects of Onisaburo — his charisma, his humanity, his colorful views —that more often than not fall through the cracks of historical record.

Aikido Journal: Morihei Ueshiba often spoke of his aikido in terms of the origin of the universe and the power of kotodama — talks which many of his students confess were extremely difficult if not impossible to understand. Aikido Journal, too, has had many opportunities to examine Ueshiba Sensei’s lectures, sayings, and so-called “writings of the way,” but frankly trying to get anything more than the general gist of these is often akin to grasping at clouds. To help us get a better understanding of Ueshiba, I hope you can tell us something about Onisaburo’s thought and philosophical views, as well as how these may have influenced Ueshiba in creating aikido.

Yasuaki Deguchi: Yes, I will do my best. It’s all rather complex, though, so catch me if something I say doesn’t make sense. I’ve published a book on Onisaburo’s thought called Kami no Katte-tsugaku, so I’ll draw on that material and try to explain it more plain language.

The origin of the universe

In your book Mother of the Earth you recount that in 1898 the twenty-eight year-old Onisaburo was called by the “kami” (divine forces; gods) to Mt. Takakuma, where he engaged in esoteric spirit-channeling exercises for one week and was shown a vision of the origin of the universe, which you describe in detail. Such “seeing” the origin of the universe when it originated tens of billions of years ago, well, it’s like something you’d see in a movie.

Indeed it is. While he said he “saw” it, this of course refers to seeing with the “eye of the soul” rather than with physical eyes. Still, that vision of the creation of the universe became the basis of his cosmology, which, by the way, was not so different from that accepted by most scientists today—he just expressed it differently.

You mean the so-called “Big Bang” theory that describes a state of extreme density and heat, followed by a cataclysmic explosion that created the universe?

Something like that, yes. The first thing Onisaburo was shown was a very distant past in which there was neither heaven nor earth, and consequently no time or space, either. He referred to this as Great Emptiness. A state of absolute nothingness. And then suddenly, in this timelessness and spacelessness, something like a single point of origin appeared.


Imagine the tiny shoot of a reed as it germinates; something like that suddenly leapt into existence. And as it appeared it gradually began to swell, forming a kind of circular or spherical shape, and as it did it began to radiate two types of particles of pure ki — particles even finer than mist — and these spread out and wrapped around to envelop the sphere. Onisaburo referred to these two types of ki as reiso and taiso (lit., spirit element and material element), which can also be understood as kaso and suiso (fire and water elements), or as inso and yoso (yin and yang elements). The important thing, though, is that two entirely opposite types of ki appeared.

Before going on I should explain a sort of mysterious energy in the universe that Onisaburo called musubi. Musubi refers to the energy that generates something new when two opposites are put into agreement or harmonized.

The concept of musubi is implicit in a passage in the opening to the Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters): “At the origin of Heaven and Earth in the Age of the Gods, the name of the kami becoming in Takaamahara was Takamimusubi no Kami, and then there was Kanmi Musubi no Kami.”

The “musu” in musubi is written with a character meaning “to birth or bring forth” and also refers phonetically to the verb “steam.” The character for “bi” means “spirit” and also refers to words for “sun” and “life.” In other words, musubi refers to both “giving birth to spirit” and “steaming into life,” or, more simply, “to bring forth life.”

Ueshiba Sensei often used the word takemusu to talk about generating unlimited technique. The character for “musu” in this word is the same as in musubi, so I suppose there is a relationship there. Also, it occurs to me that many things in the natural world are generated by bringing together two opposites — water, for example, and electricity.

The birth of kotodama

Yes, exactly, and in that same way, the two opposite elements of reiso and taiso I mentioned earlier are bound together to generate something new, rikiso (lit., energy element). It is at this point that the universe begins to move.

“Begins to move…?”

Onisaburo said that the very first thing brought forth at that time was kotodama. In the utter stillness the kotodama SU emerged, although inaudible to human ears. SU expresses silence or stillness, for example in “su-su-,” an onomatopoeic expression used to describe sleeping peacefully. Su also means vinegar in Japanese, a substance with good antiseptic qualities that prevents rotting.

Ah, in Japan in the summer we often add a little vinegar to the rice cooking pot for that reason.

Right, and su can also be a character meaning “elemental” or “basic.” And then there is the Su in Susanoo no Mikoto [a Japanese deity of particular significance to Onisaburo; see AJ#108, p. 36].

Anyway, this faint SU suddenly began to move, transforming until another sound, U, emerged. Like this: Su-u-u-u-U-U! In other words, what started as a low SU generated U. At this point, U became active and continued the movement.

We have films of Ueshiba Sensei holding a fan and voicing the syllables “su” and “u.” Do you think he was expressing this birth of kotodama?

I imagine so. This U continued climbing upward, going through the transformation U — WA — aaA until A was generated. Then it descended, going through the transformation U — WO —ooO until O was generated, followed by the further descents Ue- and Ui- to generate the kotodama E and I. Thus came into being the Five Great Father Vowels, A-O-U-E-I [“a” as in father, “o” as in go; “u” as in sue; “e” as in bay; “i” as in sheen], although these are generally known in Japanese as boin, or “mother sounds.”

That’s different from the standard a-i-u-e-o order of the Japanese syllabary. I suppose that’s because you’re talking about the order in which the kotodama were born, that is, the order in which they naturally emerge when spoken?

Right. Onisaburo didn’t assign this order himself; it’s a rule in the science of kotodama. Continuing the cycle you get KA-KO-KU-KE-KI and SA-SO-SU-SE-SHI, and eventually all seventy-five sounds of kotodama are generated.

But getting back to Onisaburo’s vision, once the kotodama had come to fulfillment, there occurred a sort of “kotodama Big Bang” in which the spiritual and material elements were created. Thus goes Onisaburo’s explanation of the origin of the universe.

I see. It’s interesting the way his explanation matches so well with the “increasing density and explosion” theories of modern science.

The working of kotodama

Indeed. Everything is made to move through kotodama. Heaven and earth, too, are permeated by the resonance of a kotodama that is too loud for human beings to hear. This sound, Onisaburo said, is what moves the universe.

What kind of sound is a sound that is too loud to hear?

Onisaburo often told me when I was young, “Close your eyes and cover your ears; that is the sound of kotodama resonating in the universe.”

Isn’t that just the sound of your internal organs and such?

Onisaburo viewed human beings as microcosms or models of the universe. Miniature versions, you might say. He believed that when people become aware of their nature as miniature versions of the universe, they become able to “hear” kotodama. And, if these sounds of the microcosmic universe are expanded out infinitely they should be identical to the kotodama resonating in the universe. Onisaburo worked with this kotodama to attempt things like summoning or stopping rain and so on. He did this when he was in Mongolia as well.

I recall a passage in our series on Morihei Ueshiba in which, while in Mongolia, Onisaburo was able to summon a gusting rain storm out of a cloudless sky at the request of Ro Sen Kai [chief of a group of mounted bandits; his name in Chinese was Lu Chan-k’ui (Lu Zhankui)].

He did that sort of thing on other occasions, too, although because it involved tinkering with the laws of nature, he refrained from doing it in all but what he felt were the most necessary circumstances.

I remember once when there was a big earthquake out in the mountains in Tottori. The tremors were quite strong even here in Kameoka. Onisaburo came running out of the house into the garden making a great “U-” sound. It was such a sight, I thought maybe he’d gone crazy! Then he came over to me, puffing and panting from the exertion, shoulders heaving, and said, “Japan was about to sink into the ocean just then, but I stopped it” [laughter]. Leaving aside whether it was true or not, he had been completely serious in his intention. It seems to go against common sense, but that’s how much he valued and believed in kotodama.

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