This month marks the one-year anniversary since I became installed as the head minster of Taiheiyo Church. It’s also the month where the next head of our nation has been elected. Whether the person we rooted for won or lost, as president Obama said, “The point is that we all go forward with a presumption of good faith in our fellow citizens… because we’re all on the same team.”
Of course in Tenrikyo, in the eyes of God the Parent, the entire world is one team. Therefore, it is my hope that, under our new presidency, we are not only able to unite as a country, but that we are able to make progress toward the peaceful unification of the United States with other countries of the world.
The U.S. presidency is a 4-year, or possibly 8-year term, but I am humbled by the thought that my dad successfully headed the church for 35 years.
They say time flies when you’re having fun, and it has been a quick year indeed. But time also flies when you’re kept busy, and it has been a busy year of learning new things, and gaining new experiences.
Along the way, we’ve had successes as well as a few challenges, but all told I think we achieved a lot of the goals we set out to do a year ago. And reflecting on the past year, we’re now able to set our objectives for the next year.
The future is long, and I tell newcomers to the faith that the spiritual path on which we are traveling is a marathon, not a 50-yard dash. Although we can’t expect to learn it all and do it all in a year or two, the important thing is to make incremental but consistent steps in our spiritual development so that we are always moving forward. We should build on our experiences, and never be complacent in our effort to draw closer to the heart of God and Oyasama.
In this ongoing endeavor, it might helpful to keep a notebook, or scorecard, to track your efforts and your progress. Keeping score is fundamental to any sport. Imagine playing in a league where there are no scoreboards. Each week you play different opponents, but don’t really know if you’ve won or lost the game. This goes on not only throughout the season, but for years. You might practice your basics, and your coach might teach you new plays or techniques, but how satisfying is it if you don’t know what your track record is?
Measuring is a great way to gauge progress in anything you do. But simply keeping score is just the first step. Unless you use that information to hone in on your strengths and make adjustments to shore up your weaknesses, you can’t expect to really make improvements in your game.
I don’t remember the first time I played golf, but it was probably around 25 years ago. Despite playing for many, many years, I have never been able to improve my game. In fact, I have yet to break 100. Part of that might just be the fact that golf isn’t my sport. I did go bowling recently for a company event, and despite not having bowled for 10 years or more, I was able to bowl a 189. You know you’re a pretty lousy golfer when your golf score resembles your bowling score.
But natural abilities aside, my lack of improvement in golf probably has to do with the fact that I never practice. So every time I’m on the course, I hit the same slicing drives, the same chunky irons, the same sculling wedges, and the same crooked putts. In this sense, I can never expect to get better.
We can compare our spirituality in a similar way. From the time we enter the faith, we might learn to do the seated service. We may attend monthly services, and we might even learn to play an instrument or two; but then we plateau. And this can go for years, and maybe even decades without much growth after that.
I’m not saying that’s bad by any means. Being devoted enough to consistently attend and perform at the monthly service is a crucial role for a Tenrikyo follower. However, this should be the foundation upon which the tower, which is your faith, should rise.
By building upon our faith year by year, we can show our appreciation, and bring happiness to God the Parent and Oyasama.
The paths we can take after laying the foundation are varied, and are not necessarily linear, meaning you don’t have to do things in a certain sequence, but making progress is the important part. Some paths may include:
- Attending morning or evening service at Taiheiyo Church. I don’t expect folks to drive in every day, but even coming once or twice a month is forward movement.
- Attending monthly services at Dendocho reflects spiritual advancement.
- Making a pilgrimage to Ojiba. Just by returning to the Home of the Parent and experiencing the services around the Kanrodai, your spirituality will surely deepen.
- Engage in Hinokishin – volunteer in the community. Do it with the mind of gratitude for daily blessings, and of saving others.
- Study the scriptures and print materials – Ofudesaki, Mikagura-Uta, Truth of Origin, the Doctrine of Tenrikyo, Anecdotes of Oyasama. For those who can read Japanese, there is the Osashizu, as well as the weekly Tenri Jiho newspaper and other publications.
- Strive to become a Yoboku, one of God’s instruments in the construction of the Joyous Life world.
- Administer the Sazuke, and in doing so communicate the teaching of A Thing Lent, A Thing Borrowed. You don’t have to be an expert in the scriptures – simply tell people although we may believe our bodies are our own, they are really borrowed from God; so we should go through life using our bodies in the way God intended, which is to live joyously by helping others.
There are many things we can do and strive for in our own journeys. The more we do to further our faith, the quicker we are able to cut off our innen. The journey will take a lifetime, so take incremental steps.
There will be speed bumps along the way – unexpected challenges in our lives, or someone close. However, THOSE are the times when we can lean on God and deepen our faith. Without the difficulties, it’s hard to appreciate the daily blessings that go on unnoticed. And it’s the mind of tanno that will allow us to break through the “ceiling” of our faith and soar to new heights of joyousness.
This is the reason why you hear of stories of the early followers being so thankful, almost welcoming hardships. I used to think, how silly that was. But they held a valuable key to life: They understood that going through those hardships while maintaining the mind of gratitude and joy was the best way to cut off one’s negative innen.
But if we don’t seize the opportunity to accept the difficulties as divine guidance, and if we fail to reflect on our usage of mind and make positive changes, then we’re throwing away the chance to cut off that innen, and we’re not making forward progress.
In the final 50 days of the 130th Anniversary of Oyasama, let us renew our vows to practice tanno, and continue advancing on our spiritual journey. Thank you for your kind attention today.