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Yasuaki Deguchi: The Omoto Religion and Aikido (13)

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by Ikuko Kimura

Aikido Journal #110 (1996)

“There is no deity in the shrine until people pray there.”

Ikuko Kimural: We were discussing the “active energy” that you call reiryokutai [A term unique to the Omoto religion, it was explained in earlier articles in this series. It is comprised of three Chinese characters meaning “soul” or “spirit” (rei), “energy” or “strength” (ryoku), and body or physicality (tai) and how this concept may have influenced Morihei Ueshiba’s thinking. Would you please continue.

Yasuaki Deguchi: It is through the active energy of the universe, that is, the reiryokutai of the kami (deity), that all things have been created. In the same way that a sponge floating in the sea is both permeated and surrounded by sea water, the reiryokutai of the kami is both within us and fills the universe around us. In other words, human beings and in fact all things, animal, vegetable, and mineral are present in, emerge from, and take form through the overflowing fullness of this divine active energy.

So you could say that we are all individual parts of the active power of the universe, in other words, the kami? That reminds me of the way Morihei Ueshiba often spoke of aikido, using expressions like “I am the Universe.”

Yes, although this is not to suggest that since we are all part of the active energy of the deity we need not pray before shrines and altars, but only before ourselves; that would be a mistaken interpretation. God (kami) is of a very spiritual, ethereal, high-dimensioned existence, and it is because this existence is inaccessible through normal perceptions that we have Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples, and household altars. These serve as receivers, much like your television set, that channel the spiritual into a perceivable form. And prayer is the switch, you might say, that turns the power on. Without prayer, even if you have a temple, shrine, or household altar, you won’t be able to interact with the kami. Onisaburo composed a poem to the effect that, “There is no kami in the shrine until people pray there.”

To continue with the television analogy, the next issue is to decide which channel you are going to watch. Many people select the wrong channel and end up communicating with strange or aberrant spiritual worlds. As I mentioned earlier, the active energy of the universe is the root kami, what Onisaburo called “Sushin” or the kami of SU. Onisaburo said we should direct our prayer to this kami alone—that’s where we need to set our tuners, you might say—and that simply respecting the other kami is sufficient.

Doesn’t that suggest a rejection of the deities of other religions?

Let me address that by first mentioning Onisaburo’s conception of God (kami). Generally speaking, there are three conceptions of the nature of God: monotheistic, polytheistic and pantheistic. Monotheistic religions, of which Christianity and Judaism are examples, take the view that there is but a single deity. Polytheistic religions conceive of a multiplicity of deities—Greek mythology and the myriad of gods and deities of Shinto, for example. Then there are pantheistic religions like Buddhism, which suggests that the deity (Buddha-nature) is in everything and everything is the deity, from the stones of the earth to the leaves on the trees. Onisaburo’s conception of God was all of these at once. Imagine a book run through by a single theme — a quality analogous, in a sense, to monotheism. Look inside the book and you will find it is comprised of several hundred disparate pages—a quality analogous to polytheism. But at the same time, all of the pages are part of the same book—a quality analogous to pantheism. Onisaburo viewed the entire universe as the creation of a single divine presence (monotheism), but one that works and manifests in myriad ways to which diverse names are given (polytheism). At the same time, everything in the universe was created of the reiryokutai of the kami and is thus part of it (pantheism). The difference between this and Buddhist pantheism is that while Buddhism suggests that stones and leaves and such are the deity in and of themselves, Onisaburo would view such things as individual parts or aspects of a greater deity.

So in the same way that stones and leaves are individual parts of the existence of the universe and therefore of the kami, humanity, too, is an aspect of the universe and therefore of the kami?

The pantheistic elements in Onisaburo’s concept of God are distinctive in other ways, too. One of his fundamental teachings, which has become a major tenet of our teaching at Aizen-en, goes like this: kami is the spirit of the universe and everything in it, people are the administrators of that which is between heaven and earth and it is through the union of these two that unlimited power is made manifest. The first aspect of this, that kami is the spirit of the universe and everything in it, is purely pantheistic in its suggestion that kami is the spirit omnipresent in all things. However, Onisaburo felt there to be an underlying source governing that omnipresent spirit. The second aspect is that people are the administrators and creators in the space between heaven and earth. The third aspect is that unlimited power is manifested when the kami and people are brought together.

Christianity and Buddhism tend to view humanity with a certain degree of negativity as “the children of sin,” but Onisaburo took the opposite view that people are the children of the kami, the shrine of the kami. He suggested that while all things are created from the reiryokutai of the kami, it is humanity in particular that has maintained the spirit of the kami most completely, and it is only when that kami and that humanity are unified that the manifestation of unlimited energy and strength becomes possible. This idea is at the very root of Onisaburo’s thought.

If kami embodies the power to create all things, why must it combine with the power of humanity?

Kami is not absolute, according to Onisaburo. For one thing, he said, it lacks flesh and blood and therefore created people to act as its own “arms and legs.” The essential intention of kami, its original will, is love manifested as a great desire to build an earthly paradise for humanity, a world of the bodhisattva Maitreya. However, no matter how strong this desire, such a world cannot come about as long as people choose to ignore these divine intentions and continue doing just as they please. Some people believe that a world of good will come about simply as the result of religious faith. Onisaburo didn’t think so. In one of his poems he writes, “Though people pray for the early arrival of Paradise-on-Earth, prayer without action is just like praying to wicked gods.” In other words, he felt it necessary to do anything and everything possible, no matter how small a contribution it made, to help realize an ideal world.

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