The Omoto religion had a major influence on Morihei Ueshiba. This interview with Yasuaki Deguchi, grandson of Omoto founder Onisaburo Deguchi, helps to unveil the nature of that influence.
AJ: In our last conversation you talked about the origin of the universe, about how all things were born out of kotodama (the spirit of language), about the view that human beings are a part of kami (the Divine), and about the idea that people can manifest their true potential when their spiritual and physical aspects are brought into agreement.
Deguchi: Let me continue by talking about people a bit more. In human beings we find two kinds of instinct, spiritual and physical. Examples of spiritual instinct might include urges toward charity, benevolence, love, and so on.
Urges to do things like sleep, eat, drink and play, on the other hand, are manifestations of physical instinct.
Now, many people jump to the conclusion that spiritual instinct is “good” and physical instinct is “bad,” but in fact both are important parts of us as human beings.
Without spiritual instinct we could not pursue abstract ideas such as justice and purity and without that capacity we would be little different from animals. On the other hand, without physical instinct leading us to eat and drink and sleep, our bodies would soon die. So both of these instincts are essential in giving us life.
Lately there have been quite a few books talking about so-called “guardian deities,” but our true guardian deity is none other than the combination of spiritual and physical instincts within us, because it is these alone that truly protect us.
Your personal guardian deity is actually your spiritual instinct acting in the capacity of a primary guardian deity and your physical instinct acting in the capacity of a secondary or supporting guardian deity.
Onisaburo said: “Other deities protect you not.” In other words, you yourself are your only protector.
AJ: When I hear the term “guardian deity” I imagine the spirits of my ancestors watching over me or something like that.
Onisaburo also said that if some spirit has attached itself to you, it is usually a phenomenon more akin to a “haunting” and that the interloping spirit more often intends to harm or corrupt you, not protect you.
AJ: So what you’re saying is that we need to make a clear distinction between so-called “spirits” and what you call “spiritual instinct.”
Yes. And I would add that spiritual and physical instinct are both extremely important. People might speculate whether one is more important than the other, but Onisaburo suggested that human beings can manifest their potential most fully when there are equal parts of both. You can think of this in terms of a total of 10 units arranged on a two-axis grid representing some sort of surface area. How do you obtain the most surface area? If you put one unit on one axis and nine on the other, the result will be only nine; two on one axis and eight on the other will give you 16; but with five on one axis and five on the other you get 25, which is the maximum possible.
If we think of this grid as a representation of the amount of human potential that can be realized through various proportions of spiritual and physical instinct, it is clear that an equal balance between the two yields the greatest result.
If either spiritual instinct or physical instinct is at zero, then of course no matter how you multiply things the result is still zero. Persons with a zero in one or the other would not survive on their own in this world.
AJ: I would have expected you to say it was better to have a higher ratio of spiritual instinct.
Well, the ratio is not the only thing to consider. Whenever there is to be any sort of “movement” in the universe, it necessarily involves a relationship between what we call a “primary” and a “secondary.” For example, if two sumo wrestlers of equal strength enter the ring and simply begin pushing on one another, neither will win or lose. Only when one of them applies a technique and the other receives it do you have what we call a proper sumo match.
In that sense, in seeking to create any kind of movement it is necessary to make one thing primary and another thing secondary. When you want to walk, for example, both your left and right legs are important, but you can’t walk if you try to move them both forward at the same time. With every step one or the other has to take the lead as the primary while the other hangs back in the capacity of secondary.
Similarly, both spiritual and physical instinct are important, but if you create a relationship in which spiritual instinct is the primary and physical instinct is the secondary, that is what we call “spiritual-primary, physical-secondary.”
A good example would be a horse and rider. If the horse is a good one and the rider skillful, it should not be obvious where one ends and the other begins. This is what is described in the saying: “Above the saddle, no rider; below it, no horse.” Horse and rider are seamlessly integrated. This is an example of spiritual instinct and physical instinct being equal and also represents an ideal form of the spiritual-primary, physical-secondary state.
In contrast, using the same proportions but giving precedence to physical instinct would result in spiritual instinct simply being dragged along, ineffectual and having lost its initiative. Such a state of physical-primary, spiritual-secondary would be something like “the horse riding the person.”
Onisaburo was interested in pursuing spiritual-primary, physical-secondary, which he viewed as representing “good,” if you care to call it that, with physical-primary, spiritual-secondary representing what is “not good’” or evil.
Incidentally, in the world today people’s physical instinct seems often to account for about six, seven or eight in this ratio, which is unfortunate.
Onisaburo always emphasized that there is a difference between truly “living” and what he called “existing.”
Existing means simply extending one’s life or the duration of one’s presence in the world. Living, on the other hand, means using the life one has been given.
Onisaburo suspected that many people nowadays are not really making use of their lives, at least not to the extent that they might. Specifically, he felt that people are too intent on satisfying only their physical instincts and desires.
For example, the term “cultured lifestyle” was something of a buzz word in Japan for a while. Onisaburo viewed this as nothing more than covering over what is really mere existence and physical continuity with a thin veneer of what appears to be “culture” - in other words, something that had nothing to do with true living.
AJ: Morihei Ueshiba said that it is time now to somehow transform the budo of the past - which he characterized as a bodily, physical endeavor emphasizing the lower “corporeal” soul into a new budo of higher “spiritual” soul, or km. On the other hand, he also said that the corporeal soul should not necessarily be cast aside, but rather used as a foundation or stage upon which to foster the spiritual soul. That is, he intended aikido to be a spiritual-primary, physical-secondary budo, to use your expression.
Onisaburo had two definitions for the so-called “active energy of the universe” that was his conception of kami (or God, or the Divine, or whatever you prefer to call it).
One definition was: “That which is limitless, absolute, with no beginning, and no end.” This he expressed as “Great-Origin-Spirit.” Of course, this leads one to ask: “Where, then, in the universe does this limitless, absolute, non-beginning, non-ending Great-Origin-Spirit exist? If the universe is limitless, then it cannot exist outside the universe, can it? Naturally, then, it must exist within the universe.
AJ: Doesn’t the idea of limitlessness preclude the universe from having an inside?
It does. You might attempt to conceive of some given point as the very center of the universe. You might imagine, for example, that the earth is that center, or the country called Japan, or some particular spot with a particular name in that country.
But this sort of thinking inevitably leads you into a very relative relationship with the universe, which goes against the idea of absoluteness and, as you pointed out, against the idea of limitlessness.
This means that the universe in its entirety and the kami are, in fact, one with each other, a oneness to which Onisaburo gave the name “active energy of the universe.”
AJ: That’s a little confusing…
For example, where is the “I” that is me, the “I” that thinks and acts and feels? If you say it is in my arm, then if you cut off my arm, that armless being would no longer be me. So the point is not to specify or define a place where that “I” exists, but rather to say that “I” is something that is in a state of oneness with my body, something that permeates my body and is inseparable from it.
AJ: And you suggest that kami is in a similar state of oneness with the universe?
Exactly, which brings me to Onisaburo’s second definition of kami, which is: “That which is the creator of all things in and between heaven and earth.”
He called that creator - the creator of absolutely everything, animal, vegetable, and mineral alike - Sushin (meaning primary deity, primary kami). Of course, this leads one to ask who or what created that creator deity.
If indeed there was some other power that created it, then that other power would be kami, Onisaburo said. And regarding the great power that created that creator, Onisaburo said: “That’s what I call kami.” In other words, kami is not something that was made, or that exists in people’s heads, but rather that which has been present all along. So, we have established that kami made all that is. However, in this world of reality there exist both the “right” or “righteous” will or intent of kami and “malign spirits” which attempt to damage or disturb that righteous/correct will.
Of course, if kami created everything, then kami must have created those malign spirits as well, for the definition of kami is negated if that is not the case.
AJ: Why would kami create malign spirits?
Actually, it would be more proper to say not that kami created them, but rather that they derived from that which kami created. Let me explain with an analogy to the kerosene heaters commonly used here in Japan: The flame gives warmth, and there is nothing more welcome than that warmth when it’s cold outside. But at the same time, the same heater also creates carbon dioxide and other invisible fumes as a result of the combustion.
If you are aware of this fact, you will open the window periodically for ventilation. If you are not aware of this fact and keep the room closed, you will be done in by the poisonous fumes. These fumes are similar to malign spirits.
AJ: When you say “malign spirit” I have an image of the lingering soul or ghost of someone unable reach heaven or enter nirvana when they died, or whose spirit has gone to hell or come back as a vengeful ghost.
Yes, I suppose you could say such things initially involve people’s evil thoughts and feelings - “bad ki” if you will. These accumulate and concentrate and begin to take on a sort of volition of their own. This is what I mean when I refer to a malign spirit. Such things are always pulling human beings toward the bad, the wicked, and the evil. Or perhaps I should say that they are creating a “spirit world,” and from there they turn to face humanity with what we might think of as “waves of notion.”
Conversely, such waves of notion also emanate from the “kami world” (for lack of a better term) and the two are constantly engaged in a kind of pulling match. Consequently, the way people conduct their lives will depend upon which of these they turn to face.
Onisaburo thought that anyone attempting to completely understand kami in using their intellectual faculties could only go mad. In a rather sophisticated pun he likened kami to the shaved head of a monk: “Though he tries to tie up (speak of) his hair (kami), he cannot tie it up (speak of it); though he tries to untie it (explain it), he cannot untie it (speak of it).”
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