Paradise on Earth
(Excerpt from the Teaching in Foundation of Paradise by Meishu-sama)
Paradise on earth - what a beautiful sound this phrase makes! There is probably no other phrase which gives such light and hope as this one. Many people may think it is only a dream with no possibility of becoming a reality, but I firmly believe that paradise on earth will become a reality. Furthermore, I perceive all the signs that the time of its realization is close at hand.
We must give deep thought to that great admonition of Jesus of Nazareth, "Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Jesus, whose teachings have become the foundation of a religion that has spread throughout the world, would never have uttered such words if they had no validity in them.
I am sure you would like to know what kind of a world paradise on earth will be, so I would like to describe the picture I have in mind. To put it simply, paradise on earth is a world of happy people. It is a world free from disease, poverty and conflict, a world with a most highly evolved civilization.
How can this present world, where humanity is suffering in agony from all kinds of miseries - one full of disease, poverty, conflict - be transformed into a paradise? This is the big issue for us to solve. Since disease is the main one of the three great miseries of man, a way of eradicating it must first be discovered. Next is the problem of poverty.
The primary cause of poverty also lies in disease; the secondary cause lies in distorted thoughts and poor administration and the defective state of our social structure. The third problem is strife-consciousness, the cause of which lies in the fact that man is still in a stage of barbarism. The essential question is, how can these three great misfortunes of mankind be eradicated? I have become convinced that these problems can indeed be solved.
True salvation should encompass both the spiritual and physical bodies. It should bring physical health, freedom from poverty, and a total sense of material happiness and contentment for the entire family.
There are religions which have the power to save man spiritually and mentally, but not materially. For this reason, most people have come to believe that the sole purpose of religion is spiritual salvation and that any faith which aims at material blessings must be a low form of religion. This is absurd. There is probably no one who does not desire material blessings.
It is only when you yourself have learned to live happily through the spiritual teaching you believe in that you will be able to help others who are still suffering in misery so they may become as happy as you. Seeing your joyous state, they will begin to feel that the teachings you are trying to share must contain truth.
To be a successful example yourself is the most effective way of spreading a spiritual teaching. Even I did not have the courage to recommend this faith to others while I did not enjoy all of the conditions for happiness. Thanks to God's divine help and blessings, I did attain happiness. When I knew this beyond any doubt, I became determined to expound the teachings.
Paradise on earth will be a place where all who have reached a state of genuine happiness are unified in one world. This will indeed be the true state of the earth when it becomes a paradise.
January 25, 1949
Those who are enriched
By their deep appreciation
Of all the fine arts
Are people indeed
Living in paradise.
I think a religion
Without any teachings on Art
Does not have the power
To lead to paradise.
The most precious
Art of all
Is the Art that
Gives pleasure to man,
Uplifting his heart.
~ Mokichi Okada
Since my youth, I have always liked painting. Of all the great painters throughout the ages, Korin Ogata is my favorite. Among the artists belonging to the Korin School, there are those who have admirable qualities, such as Koetsu, Sotatsu, Koho and Kenzan. Korin, however, is by far the best. He depicted the truth of his subject in the simplest way unparalleled by any other. He disregarded the physical form of his object, yet he faithfully managed to present it in its entirety. His technique is comparable to a Japanese tanka, a 31-syllable poem, that inspires readers like no speech can.
What amazes me most is the fact that he took a bold departure from traditional Japanese painting, which had held on to stereotypes imported from China. He got rid of lines and made designs of his subjects. Simply stated, he developed a revolutionary painting technique, making a courageous breakthrough from conventional restrictions.
Korin's achievements brought about a revolution in art circles in the Meiji period--more than 200 years after his death. Let me share with you an episode illustrating this connection, which happened more than thirty years ago, when I had a chance to meet with Mr. Tenshin Okakura (1). Okakura had just begun a life of seclusion in Izura, Ibaraki Prefecture, accompanied by his associates, Taikan Yokoyama (2), Shunso Hishida (3), Kanzan Shimomura (4), and Buzan Kimura (5). He shared with me his vision for the future of Japanese painting, which not only gave me immense insight but also made me aware of his most unusual talents. I spent a whole night talking with Shimomura and Kimura. Shimomura said, "The reason Mr. Okakura founded the Japan Fine Arts Academy was to reactivate Korin in modern art. Our real intention, therefore, is not to use lines. Other artists despise us for our 'blurred style,' but I have no doubt that we will be widely recognized in time."
Sure enough, as most people know, paintings of the Academy soon dominated the art world in Japan, revolutionizing Japanese painting. Shimomura also said, "Realism in Western painting reached its zenith with its interest in minute details. Competing with photography, artists found themselves at a complete impasse. When there was an urgent need for a major change, some in the French art community discovered Korin. We can imagine how much they marveled at Korin's technique, which was the very opposite of elaborate, sophisticated techniques of Western realism. Subsequently, art nouveau designs were born and so was the early impressionist movement, culminating in the late impressionist art represented by such great masters as Van Gogh, Gauguin and Cezanne. Moreover, Korin had an impact on all arts and crafts, including architecture, which, fueled by the sezession movement (6), underwent a transformation from the Greek and Roman styles. As is well known, this gave birth to what is called modern architecture, forcing Renaissance architecture to the sidelines. There is no denying that the extremely simplified, world-famous architectural style created by the Swiss-born French architect Le Corbisier also was initially influenced by Korin."
Indeed, Korin was one person who, a few hundred years after his death, impacted the entire world and revolutionized an important aspect of human civilization. It is not too much to say that he deserves to be the object of Japan's pride more than any other individual. Japan has never boasted another whose contribution affected an entire phase of human civilization.
August 30, 1949
Notes: (1) Tenshin Okakura (1862-1913) is known primarily for his attempts to protect and restore traditional Japanese art forms. He began studying English at nine, and entered Tokyo School of Foreign Languages at eleven. Later he studied at Tokyo University under Ernest F. Penollosa, professor of philosophy and economics, who had great interest in Japanese art. In 1886 Okakura traveled to Europe and America to study Western art and art education. Okakura was one of the founders of Japan's first official art academy, Tokyo Bijutsu Gakko (now Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music) which opened in 1889.
(Meishu-sama enrolled at Tokyo Bijutsu Gakko in 1897 when Okakura was president. After a few months, however, Meishu-sama had to withdraw from the school because of his eye trouble.) Later Okakura lectured and traveled in the United States and Europe as part of an effort to educate the West about Asian culture. Among his published books, the best known is The Book of Tea (1906). In 1905 he became advisor and later assistant curator to the Chinese and Japanese Department of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. He often commuted between Boston and Japan. Tenshin was Okakura's pen-name, his real name being Kakuzo.
(2) Taikan Yokoyama (1868-1958) is best known for his masterpiece: Cherry Blossoms at Night, a pair of six-panel folding screens. He was prominent in the movement led by Tenshin Okakura to develop a new style of Japanese painting respectful of, but not enslaved to, past traditions.
(3) Shunso Hishida (1874-1911) copied many religious paintings in Kyoto and Nara for the Imperial Household Museum (now Tokyo National Museum) and taught at the Tokyo Bijitsu Gakko. Tenshin Okakura was his mentor.
(4) Kanzan Shimomura (1873-1930) was a faculty member of Tokyo Bijutsu Gakko, appointed an artist for the Imperial Household, and.a student of early Buddhist painting and Tosa School scrolls.
(5) Buzan Kimura (1876-1942) is best known as a Buddhist painter. (6) Sezession is a German word referring to a movement engineered in 1897 by a group of young artists including Otto Wagner. Irisies. Ogata Korin. Six-folded screen on gold ground on paper.
Irisies. Ogata Korin. Six-folded screen on gold ground on paper. 18th century
Irisies detail (lower image)
THE PARADISE OF ART
June 15th is the annual commemoration of “Paradise on Earth.” Johrei Fellowship centers and groups will be observing this important milestone in our organization’s history through special services.
According to Meishu-sama, the state of existence called “paradise of earth” is in the Divine Plan and is already becoming a reality. This process will manifest numerous challenges which humanity will have negotiate and therefore, the choices that are made individually as well as collectively, are ever more important.
Meishu-sama added that “the most important step to making this a reality is to discard all Shojo attitudes...in other words, there should appear a movement which includes religion, science, government, economy, art and every other area of material life, yet transcend them all.” (A Daijo Religion)
If we observe what is taking place here in the United States, it appears that everything is at an impasse. There is extreme disagreement on religious beliefs, confusion and ignorance about science and nature, the economy is uncertain and the government seems to be unable to accomplish anything without deceit or disharmony.
In light of these concerns, society needs to seek an alternative narrative and focus, to try to balance out the constant clamor and current discord that is taking place in the world around us. We must recognize that these concerns and incidents are real and that they will not disappear by simply ignoring them. At the same time, it is helpful to be aware that according to Meishu-sama’s guidance, everything happening in this world – positive and negative - has a function which is necessary for human society. Some are now emerging to the surface, giving humanity opportunities to understand the causes and to make some important decisions.
Meishu-sama wrote that the beauty reflected from the hearts of individuals was essential for this “new civilization,” one that can be envisioned as a paradise on earth. He said that this world of beauty would manifest in mind, heart and spirit. It would emerge through words and actions and that when it extended from the individual, the beauty of society would emerge. As a result, visual representation in the form of artistic and creative expression would also become beautiful, as relationships between individuals became more thoughtful and considerate.
Artistic expression was one of the focal points of Meishu-sama’s vision. In a Teaching entitled Religion and Art, Meishu-sama wrote that the very mission of art was to elevate man’s consciousness. There is another essay with the very same title in which he names some notable figures in history such as Prince Shotoku and the priests Gyoki and Kukai in Japan, Da Vinci in the world of religious paintings and Bach and Handel in the field of religious music. In another essay titled A Religion of Art, Meishu-sama discusses the influence of Chinese and European art on Japanese artistic sensibilities, eventually assimilating into a unique and inseparable part of Japanese culture. These essays are among several included in the Foundation of Paradise about the relationship between faith practice and the creative arts.
We have been taught that the threads of this grand vision of paradise on earth are woven together by the central practice of goodness, truth and expression of beauty. Adding to that master plan, Meishu-sama included detailed explorations on health, natural agriculture, the importance of respecting nature and working in harmony with the natural world. This expression of beauty toward the goal of creating a paradise on earth also included the role of flowers.
Meishu-sama studied artists and took great interest in the world of creative expression which included painting, calligraphy, pottery, music, theater and the performing arts, literature, architecture and landscape gardening. He collected rare and exquisite works of art which are now displayed for the benefit of the public in two splendid museums in Japan.
Among the great artists from Japan, Meishu-sama was particularly impressed by the works of Ogata Korin. Accompanying this article is an essay on Korin, included in a collection of writings on several notable artists, authors and poets from Japan as well as from Europe.
To the casual observer, Meishu-sama may come across as the stereotypical religious leader, sometimes stern and didactic, but he was more than that. He was also a very accomplished artist and designer. He passionately believed that the mission of the artist was to raise the vibration of the people viewing his or her work, which would elevate society to a higher level of spiritual consciousness. He believed that humanity could never attain complete happiness and fulfillment without artists being able to express their inner hearts and he viewed them as playing a major role in his mission.
When we observe Meishu-sama's body of work – especially his paintings and calligraphy which were dedicated as Sacred Scrolls- they connect with the viewer through the eyes, the brain and heart. When we allow ourselves to observe his sacred works in this manner, they seem to complete the Trinity of mind, body and spirit. Therefore, it would appropriate to categorize his calligraphy and Kannon paintings as important religious art that will be regarded with reverence for centuries.
Religious art in our faith practice and depicted in the works of Meishu- sama has more in common with religious art from other traditions, cultures and religions than what we may perceive. If we were to consider the purpose of religious art, there are many reasons for creating, viewing and even acquiring these creations. From a religious perspective, one can say that they serve two main purposes – for education and for meditative contemplation. In past centuries, religious art educated the viewer about the tenets of that particular faith. For a Christian, it told the story about the life of Jesus through depictions in elaborate stained-glass windows and detailed paintings. The miraculous acts of saints were also depicted likewise. For a practitioner of Buddhism, the paintings, statues and carvings dedicated to the Buddha conveyed the Enlightened One's meditative process toward reaching Nirvana (Enlightenment) which in turn, allowed the practitioner to conform to the Buddha mind.
Art dedicated to religion and faith practice is a vehicle to encourage meditation, reflection, self-examination, prayer or even spiritual passion on its own - separate from the written doctrines of a faith.
In reading the essay about Ogata Korin, it makes us wonder what attracted Meishu-sama to his works, even though his works were not dedicated to religion. He was most likely drawn to the spiritual vibration or level of the artist through his works. Perhaps, it the abundant use of gold leaf and burnished metals, capturing the attention of the viewer? This style of using these gilded materials reminds the observer of religious icons of the Eastern Roman Empire, also known as Byzantine Art. Many such paintings portray the Virgin and Holy Child through the jewel-like beauty of icons depicted in a sacred environment of a cathedral, where it lures the individual to a quiet, peaceful and meditative response.
We are taught that the Johrei faithful does not pray to the calligraphy on the Sacred Scroll itself, but that through the act or prayer, we connect to the divine being of the highest order.
In the Greek Orthodox Church, it is believed that a religious icon acts like a divine curtain between the physical realm and the spiritual realm and that when the believer prays in front of the icon, the spiritual energy depicted in the figure moves outward in the direction of the faithful, and a connection is established during the recitation of prayer. For some of the older orthodox religious orders, the purpose of religious art as a process to align one's heart and mind with God, is quite unvarnished in their tradition. Some may be surprised that it is not very different from what we practice in Johrei and this can provide room for introspection, as we contemplate some of our core practices and progressive movement.
Perhaps then, the next time someone hears a comment that praying in front of a Scroll is a uniquely Eastern and peculiar cultural tradition, the individual may be able to explain that our practice may have more in common with other older traditions, in the ways we express our reverence to the Divine.
It has only been a few centuries since Western civilization started collecting art in museums, as we know them today. Considering that the history of art and its relationship with religion goes back several thousand years, that is relatively a short time. Previously, most of what is known as fine art to modern society, served a different purpose. As mentioned earlier, it was primarily how people experienced an aesthetic dimension of religion. Art and paintings and pictures evoked a powerful imagery that affected the intellect as well as the emotion, more so than literature, or the written word, because many people were poor and underprivileged and did not have the means to seek a formal education.
Talented artists and sculptors like Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Rafael and poets, architects and writers, were mostly struggling artists and were sponsored by a wealthy benefactor or in most cases - the church. Similarly, in other religions, the leaders of the temple, synagogue or mosque employed artists and craftspeople to use their talents to portray their respective religion in the grandest vision to inspire the masses. Many of these structures have survived the ages and are now popular tourist sites as well as destinations for pilgrims worldwide.
Probably the most well-known work of art by Ogata Korin is the Red and White Plum Blossoms screen. It was acquired by Meishu-sama and is housed in the MOA Museum in Atami, Japan. We have seen this image in book covers, magazines and the internet. It has become recognizable as a prototypical work of Japanese art, similar to the perhaps more popular image of The Great Wave off Kanagawa, by the famous Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock artist, Hokusai.
In this exquisite creation, Red and White Plum Blossoms, Korin chooses a simple landscape scene of two flowering trees on either side of a stylized stream to creates an almost surreal vision. The jewel-like colors appear abstract and realistic at the same time and the background of subtle gold leaf has an ethereal quality. In the essay about Korin, Meishu-sama mentioned that he “disregarded the physical form of his subject, yet he faithfully managed to present it in its entirety.” This example is demonstrated by the stream which appears to undulate with curls and metallic spirals, like an abstract depiction of flowing water and it also appears flat and missing depth. It is as if the artist deliberately portrayed it in this manner. At the same time, the viewer is left with little doubt of his knowledge of nature and skilled portrayal of how a plum tree grows, with its contorted form and tangle of branches. Ogata Korin’s artistic creations were revolutionary and were fittingly recognized by a spiritual revolutionary, Meishu-sama.
In his essay My Work Must Continue, he writes: “The museum I am going to build will gather the finest examples of Oriental art and fulfill the desire of art lovers throughout the world. It will be a celebration of art and a demonstration of the accomplishments of Japanese culture. This project may have the effect of diminishing the stigma we have acquired as a "war-loving people." When the museum is finished, it is to be hoped that officials will invite visitors from abroad to see it. If we can serve the government in such a way, we can be proud to have made a significant contribution to our nation.”
Regarding the role of the artist he writes: “The primary responsibility of a painter is not only to provide a feast for the eyes of as many viewers as possible, but more importantly, to raise the viewers' spiritual vibrations by bringing elevation, virtue and beauty to their hearts. True, painters have freedom in exhibiting originality, expressing passion and selecting subjects, but they would be defeating the purpose of art if they were to abuse their freedom in any way. Art not only heightens the intellect, but also visually conveys the spirit of the artist to the viewer for spiritual upliftment.” (My Philosophy on Art)
Meishu-sama created museums to represent the art of beauty – an essential part of paradise on earth. The world today requires a revolution of minds and hearts as well. Let’s keep this in our consciousness and honor this occasion by taking the opportunity to visit a museum or art gallery.
Happy Paradise on Earth Day!