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Yasuaki Deguchi: The Omoto Religion and Aikido (10)

by Stanley Pranin

Aikido Journal #107 (1996)

Entering the Order

In 1973 I was appointed to the position of Saishi. This position required membership in the Saikyo-in and was always someone from the Deguchi family, which in the Omoto Order held a status similar to that of the Japanese Imperial family in Japan. The responsibilities of the position included handling Shinto ceremonies, studying the doctrine and canon of the Order, and working to establish and maintain a philosophy of teaching appropriate to the precepts of the Order.

Although I was anxious to get started on a continuation of Mother of the Earth (Daichi no Haha), I found myself unable to refuse the appointment, because doing so would break the promise that the Third Successor Naohi Deguchi had made to my father. I doubted that I was truly cut out for such a formal position, but I resolved to apply myself to it and make it my new mission in life, even if it meant having to abandon my writing. It crossed my mind that perhaps this was the mission that Onisaburo had meant for me, and that the destiny decreed by the circumstances of my birth had come around to face me once again. I thought about it and realized it had been ten years since I had won the Mystery Writer Newcomer Prize in 1963 at the age of thirty-three, and now, entering the Order at forty-three, it seemed appropriate to use the opportunity to begin a second phase of life.

In August of the following year, I was appointed to the Omoto Studies Committee. I was enthusiastic about the position, for I thought surely it would present many opportunities to get involved in some deep and rich discussions on Omoto teachings.

I was thoroughly disappointed.

On one hand, committee members belonging to the so-called “Kyotaro [Naohi’s son] faction” were boycotting the meetings. Most of the remaining members were anti-Kyotaro and used the board meetings as a forum to plot against him, as well as to vent their dissatisfaction with the Omoto Order’s Executive Council.

I made frequent suggestions to the effect that perhaps we ought to be devoting our time and energy to the Omoto studies that were supposedly our aim, but my requests went unheeded and such subjects were never once taken up in serious discussion during the entire time I sat on the committee.

It didn’t take long after entering the Order for me to realize that it was in a rather sorry state of decay. From the outside it may have looked like Omoto, but on the inside it was in the midst of a definite decline. People no longer looked back to Nao Deguchi and Onisaburo, the two principle “founders” of the faith, and a lowbrow, cultish belief in Naohi and her husband Hidemaro as living gods had become prevalent.

If there ever had been any deities incarnate in the Order, they would have been Nao and Onisaburo; but both had been forgotten. And if there ever were any sacred words from such living deities, they were Nao’s Fudesaki and Onisaburo’s Reikai Monogatari; but these had been forgotten as well. Sacred spaces such as the Ten’onkyo in Kameoka and Ayabe’s Baisho-en had become the scenes of vulgar power struggles.

Whenever I had the opportunity, I voiced my opinion—both verbally and in writing—that Omoto should be returned to its proper origins, but the Executive Council simply ignored me and sabotaged my efforts at every turn.

Not all was hopeless, however, for eventually I began to discover a small number of people scattered here and there who were truly interested in studying the Omoto teachings. Before long these people became a core around which reform efforts eventually took shape.

Beginning in the autumn of 1979, a small number of us banded together and began quietly making preparations for what was to become a long drive for reform. We knew we would accomplish very little simply by going around lamenting and complaining about the Order’s rottenness, but we also realized that any head-on attempt to change things would inevitably be seen as a threat and crushed before it could get off the ground. We had to find a more moderate—or at any rate less obvious—approach that would still be effective. Eventually we hit upon the idea of publishing an Omoto studies journal focusing on Onisaburo’s Reikai Monogatari.

Still, we worried whether we would be able to fully resist the “powers-that-be” should they order us to cease publication. To protect ourselves and the journal from such a worst-case scenario, we decided to establish an incorporated publishing company—in other words, an entity legally separate from the Order itself. If push came to shove, we figured, status as a legally recognized company complete with independent stockholders would keep the journal safe from dissolution, even in the face of the strong authority of the Omoto headquarters.

We worked quickly and quietly to gather shareholders at five hundred yen per share from among the ranks of sympathetic Order staff—many of whom felt as discouraged about the future of the Order as we did—as well as from believers from all over the country. We asked Saburo Sakata, a “hoshisha” (lit. “servant of the people”) in the Omoto headquarters, to act as the company’s president. We chose him not only because we felt the president should be someone from Kameoka, where the journal was to be published, but also because he was a popular man with enough mettle to resist pressure that was sure to come from the Omoto headquarters.

Born in 1905 in Toyama Prefecture, Sakata had come into the Omoto faith around 1924. Onisaburo had been quite fond of him and nicknamed him “Kin-toki” [probably after Sakata Kintoki, a warrior of the Heian period famed for his strength and bravery]. In addition to his ideal personal qualities, we also knew that beneath his quiet demeanor smoldered a deep resentment about the spiritual impoverishment of the Order. At that time Sakata had been commissioned by the Order’s internal affairs section to manage Omoto’s fields. He quickly agreed to our offer, knowing full well that he was taking on the role of scapegoat. Already seventy-five years old, he resolved to devote his remaining years of faith to doing what he thought was right, whatever the consequences.

The ‘Third’ Omoto Incident

On March 9, 1980 we officially registered the company under the name of the journal, Izutomizu, and began assembling quietly to prepare for the publication of the first issue of our journal. Right about that time, however, the Betsuin Shozoku (lit., branch temple affiliation) affair in Takeda in Hyogo Prefecture occurred. [The author does not provide the details, but this incident seems to have involved a certain group within the Order attempting to take over (or establish) a “separate temple” (betsuin) of some sort, which would allow them enough power to assume control of the Order as a whole.] It seemed as if a large amount of power might be usurped by certain strong elements within the Order. Once again the Order was faced with a crisis.

The situation was so immediate that our long-term and indirect approach of simply publishing a journal encouraging people to re-examine Omoto’s original spirituality was plainly insufficient. We quickly altered our course and began to use Izutomizu as a medium through which to direct open and sharply critical attacks against the Order and its rottenness. We also formed an accompanying organization called Izutomizu no Kai as an entity capable of taking even more concrete action, and in doing so launched a full-blown reform movement.

Because most of the Omoto staff members involved in such activities had to keep a low profile, it ended up that I, in my position as Saishi, stood at the forefront of the movement. I threw my whole body and soul into the effort, assuming the task of confronting the Order and traveling around the country working to gain the understanding of believers in various regions.

The Executive Council was astonished at what was happening. Haughty and accustomed to luxuriating in their own authority, they had never dreamed that a reform movement would be so tempestuous. And, although they knew about Sakata and me, they had no idea which Headquarters staff members supported us, nor which regions were the most heavily involved. The only reaction they managed was to deny the issues we broached as “mere fabrications.” Frantically they tried to negate our accusations, denouncing us as devils and informing us that any further issues of Izutomizu received would be returned unopened.

Before long, the incident became known publicly as the “Third” Omoto Incident. Even before it was resolved, I recorded the chain of events in a work titled The Truth of the Third Omoto Incident (Daisanji Omoto Jiken no Shinso), published under the pen name Ryu Towada (the characters of which mean “dragon” and “Lake Towada”). I used that name not because I really believed myself to be a reincarnation of the Dragon King, as Onisaburo had suggested, but as an admonition to myself not to forget the mission he had given me.

The Shochikubai Incident

Onisaburo had, of course, predicted that the Omoto Order would come to such a state of disarray. In the sixty-seventh volume of Reikai Monogatari he makes mysterious prophecies about what would come to pass after his death. They are written in a difficult literary style, but what they say in plain language is this.

“When I have gone, the true teachings will become neglected and forgotten. Infected by flattery and lies, people will join to do evil, re-awakening great misfortune and sorrow that will only worsen with time. More I cannot reveal, but I tell you this: admonish one another to remember the teachings, bearing them in mind yourselves as well; preserve and sustain the divine words and teachings, and avoid treading the mistaken path.”

Onisaburo’s predictions proved frighteningly on the mark as a malaise began to permeate the Order. At the time when the Second Omoto Incident was finally resolved, Onisaburo had said, “The Omoto Incidents will continue until there have been three. All together they are the Shochikubai Incident, and the third is take… Yes, the third is take!” [The three characters that make up the word sho-chikubai are pine, bamboo, and plum, respectively, and can be read matsu, take, and ume. Here they correlate with the names of the locations where the first, second, and third Omoto incidents began, as indicated below.]

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