The New Year
In September of 1945, Meishu-sama gave a message about the spiritual relationship between Japan and the United States, just a few days after the signing of the treaty that officially ended World War II in the Pacific region.
He illustrated the example of the two arms of the balanced cross with the vertical representing the spiritual side of civilization and the material side being represented by the horizontal. He explained that the two countries represented each arm and that the fulfillment of the divine plan for humanity was reliant on the symbolic joining of the two.
Meishu-sama greatly admired America. In relation to his message about the two countries and their respective roles in the future civilization of the balanced cross or izunome, one could also envision this example extending to include all nations of the world, each one representing one aspect of the horizontal or the vertical. This is not unlike the balanced energies of the Ying-yang, seeking to function as complementary, interconnected and interdependent energies and not as contrary forces. A perfect balance of the spiritual and material.
In his early life, Meishu-sama did not have any affinity with a religious path. Later in life as his destiny began to unfold, the revelation of his spiritual purpose became clear and he began to study and investigate the role of religion in the destiny of humanity. His goal was to create an organization beyond the limitations of any one religious “ism” but he also acknowledged the roles of Buddhism and Shintoism, which were the predominant religious beliefs of the Japanese. While the experiential practice of Johrei, natural farming and the arts were the mainstays of his movement, he also incorporated existing religious practices as they were part of the daily lives of a majority of the population. His teachings merged the practice of internal faith and personal spiritual upliftment with the focus on a “horizontal” movement, by providing opportunities for anyone to receive the healing power of Johrei. One could say that proselytizing came second to the experiential.
During the period in its history when Japan was still cautious of the West and its unknown influences, expanding religions like Christianity sought to gain a foothold in this closed nation. This movement was met with great resistance from the authorities and Imperial Court. As portrayed by Japanese author Shūsaku Endō in his novel Silence, the early missionaries experienced harsh discrimination. This reaction can be viewed as an extreme form of a vertical - shojo - attitude that was prevalent in medieval Japan.
Yet, many thousands were drawn to this new religion. It provided a different way of expressing one’s faith and sharing that with non-believers. It was an alternative to the vertical form of worship that was associated with emperors and clan leaders who were considered demi-gods. These early Christian adherents had to practice their faith in secrecy, fearful of persecution from the authorities and strictly forbidden to worship Christian symbols or recite prayers and sing hymns.
Even centuries later during the early and mid-1900’s, the authorities maintained strict regulations over religious expression and practice. Meishu-sama himself personally experienced harsh persecution as he sought to grow his movement.
Today, Japan has become one of the most secular nations in the world. While Christianity remains a minority religion of less than one percent, many people among the younger generation have no strong affiliation with any religion. While they may continue to visit temples and shrines to give prayers and offerings, this tradition is largely maintained out of respect for their elders, ancestors and annual cultural observations, rather than an expression of fervent and personal religious belief.
At the same time, celebration of selected Christian holidays has gained popularity in Japan. This is an interesting choice of “importation” of Western values, mainly focused on the material and commercial aspects. The festivity of Christmas is one popular event, with all its trimmings including Santa Claus and holiday lights. Meishu-sama might have been envisioning something a little different when he talked about the coming together of the East and West.
In reflecting on the connection between Japan and America, one recent event was noteworthy. While largely ceremonial today, the position of the Emperor of Japan is still respected, influencing life in both the political and cultural spheres. There is also a spiritual or religious aspect to this position with the association of divinity to Imperial Japan, going back to 600 B.C. Previous emperors in earlier times were considered living gods and descendants of the Shinto deity, Amaterasu.
This lineage has gone through transformation as Japan opened to the West. Correspondingly, Japanese society began to experience change, beginning from the Meiji Period which extended from 1868 to 1912. One can say that this was a shift from the vertical to the horizontal.
The seat of the emperor is called the Chrysanthemum Throne and each imperial era is given a special name. The era for the current emperor, Akihito, was named Heisei. The two Chinese characters (kanji) making up the period’s name are translated, respectively, as “peace” and as the root of the verb “to become.” Therefore, the English equivalent for Heisei can be understood as “Achieving Peace.”
Meishu-sama and the current emperor share the same birthday of December 23, separated by five decades. It is said that Meishu-sama had commented on the birth of the future emperor in 1933, in response to a question regarding the significance. While the details of his comments are not recorded or verified, the understanding was that this royal birth signified the beginning of a special era for Japan.
Emperor Akihito has formally announced that he will be abdicating the throne in April of this year, thus paving the way for a new rule and era in Japan. In his recent official speech to the public on his birthday in December, the emperor reflected on his reign and shared some interesting observations.
His statement largely reflected on his reign and the challenging events that happened during this time including the chaotic political events, the downturn of the economy and the scale and frequency of natural disasters. He demonstrated deep thoughtfulness in recognizing the affects of the three catastrophic natural disasters between 1993 and 2001, including the tsunami and the two devastating earthquakes. He said that these events had left an indelible impression on his mind and shifted his perspective on many levels. Looking at this from the perspective of the Teachings, perhaps these man-made and natural disasters were necessary purification and a form of collective “soul polishing” before real peace prevails.
Another interesting comment in light of events closer to home, was his acceptance to the coming changes among the population in Japan, as the country prepares to open its doors to more people from other countries to fill job openings and help grow the economy. He encouraged everyone to welcome these new arrivals warmly, which is a noticeable contrast to sentiments closer to home and in other parts of the world – especially in the West.
The great act of balancing the two arms seems to be playing out - perhaps not always in ways intended - as attitudes that were previously identified with one worldview and spiritual thought, interact and merge with the opposite.
The present chaos and division in our country should not shape our faith practice, but they can be viewed under a wider spiritual lens. Meishu-sama’s intention was to help prepare us for the arrival of these changing events. He described this manifestation as a cyclical shift in the spiritual or cosmic state of the universe. He said that this period would be beset by many events, with humanity struggling to keep pace, especially those that were unprepared to accept and adjust to such changes. Some religious groups have particularly descriptive and imaginative portrayals of events to come.
As we move into another new year, our fellowship is not immune from the changes of the outside world. The current division that has emerged over the past two years within the “mother church” should make us think more deeply. A spiritual leader can assert a great influence on the beliefs of the faithful, as evidenced by a gradual shift from religious orthodoxy (a fundamental position or belief) toward what is known as heterodoxy, or opinions and doctrines that are at variance with the commonly held beliefs of the faithful, resulting in new “truths” becoming acceptable.
The Teachings explain that there is always a reason why events take shape as they do. Difficult experiences can be forms of tempering before a blessing or positive result or outcome can be achieved. Simply observing the surface and neglecting to look deeper won’t provide answers to deeper questions or release our thoughts that may be held firm by opinions and attachments. Meishu-sama said that everything that takes place in the material world has already been determined in the world of thought. This is the universal principle of the spiritual preceding the physical. Those well-known sayings about dark clouds with silver linings or the light at the end of a tunnel and the illustrations that Meishu-sama provided about purification through “soul polishing” and simultaneous deconstruction and construction - these are examples of the necessary crises that need to occur before lasting change can take hold.
Recently, the new United States House of Representatives convened with the most diverse class of lawmakers in the history. The visual images from this gathering are like a reminder for these words by Meishu-sama: “…let us imagine that a great painter has started to create a masterpiece titled ‘World.’ The picture he is working on will ultimately show the total perfection, the consummate skill of the artist, who is expressing the highest beauty, using an infinite variety of lines and colors. Imagine the length of time required just to make all the necessary preparations for this great painting of the world! When these are completed, the first step, the most important, is taken: the drawing of the lines marking the boundaries between countries. Once these have been made, the colors are applied. Many pigments are needed to designate the earth's different races and nations. Please remember, as you read, that I am writing this to make a point. Now, all the skillfully drawn lines and all the colors have been applied; the masterpiece is completed. This is nothing other than the great Art of God at work.” (The Art of God. Foundation of Paradise.)
This country is still a long way from that masterpiece and these elected officials from different backgrounds and cultures represent different and diverse ideas. They also have a choice to start the process of closing divisions and restoring hope and goodwill. Let us pray that they will not be influenced by acrimony and the adversarial energy of the Age of Night and that they will be blessed with the necessary guidance and fortitude to work for the good of all.
We can begin the year by starting with ourselves and choose to incorporate a consciousness to eliminate the warring nature in the human heart. Meishu-sama said that despite all its glorious scientific and material achievements, humankind would remain in a half-civilized, half-barbaric state, if we fail to achieve progress in spirit. He said that the limitation of the efficacy of laws was because of inattention to spiritual or universal laws and continued focus on man-made “isms.”
His Teachings guide us to view challenging events as necessary experiences. These words deliver a reminder to help us remain steadfast: “God has endowed each human being with special talents and capabilities, so his individual mission can be performed successfully. He has caused each one to be born and reborn countless times, to live again and again in the physical world so he may move forward toward the ultimate goal of perfection. All things and all events - good and evil, peace and war, creation and destruction - are part of the movement toward this goal, a necessary part of evolution.” (The Strata in The Spiritual World. Foundation of Paradise.)
Our fellowship will also need to transform with the times. In this coming year, we will experience changes and we pray to be guided to make our efforts productive through peaceful and harmonious endeavors.
Wishing everyone a productive 2019.