September Monthly Service Sermon 2006

By Honbu-in Toshimi Imamura  (1)

We are grateful for having been able to joyously perform the September Monthly Service today with so many of you attending. Since I have been appointed to deliver today's sermon, I would like to take this opportunity to share some of my thoughts with you. May I have your kind attention.

Since we also perform the Autumn Memorial Service in September, it is fitting for us use this occasion to recall the footsteps of our predecessors. I would, therefore, like to focus my talk on some of the footsteps and achievements of the Honseki, Izo Iburi, which can serve as an exemplary model for all of us following the path today.

On November 7, 1889, three years prior to the Fifth Anniversary of Oyasama, a Timely Talk was given to urge the followers to follow Oyasama's fifty-year Divine Model, called hinagata, in a decisive manner for a period of "three years, one thousand days.

This Timely Talk said:

There are many ways of following the path of the hinagata. There is the path of one who has sown the seeds of sincerity. Here again the truth of the outcome of so many years on the path has not been proven wrong. People used to say, "What is he saying, that carpenter? The number one carpenter of Japan. What is he talking about?" They all laughed. . . . A model for following the hinagata is close by. . . . Follow the path of the hinagata and in a short time you will wonder why you did not understand earlier. In the past there was one among you who was thought of as being ordinary. Now you say that you did not know that he was such a great person.

Osashizu, November 7, 1889

The carpenter referred to in this Timely Talk is the Honseki, Izo Iburi. This passage tells us in effect: "Many things were shown in the path of the hinagata, and there are many ways to follow it. For example, there is the path through which the Honseki has sown the seeds of true sincerity. However, the truth of the outcome of so many years on the path has not been proven wrong. People belittled him and laughed at him, saying, "What is that carpenter talking about?" He was settled as the Honseki because he had single-heartedly followed the path with sincerity. The Honseki's exemplary model is close by; it is the model for following Oyasama's Divine Model honestly."

Oyasama's fifty-year Divine Model is the path to the Joyous Life that the Parent personally walked in order to demonstrate the teachings to Her children. In comparison, the path walked by the Honseki is the exemplary model of a child, or a Yoboku of God the Parent, who was implementing the teachings exactly as taught by the Parent, honestly and single-mindedly. It is a familiar model from which we would do well to learn.

Though he had been a humble carpenter before entering the faith, Izo eventually bestowed the Truth of the Sazuke from his position as the Honseki and delivered the Divine Directions (words of God) during the twenty years from 1887 when Oyasama withdrew from physical life until 1907. In other words, as a "proxy of God," he served in the weightiest role of conveying God the Parent's intention and carrying out God the Parent's work. What kind of a person was Izo Iburi? What was the reason for giving him the position of the Honseki? In short, I believe that it was his honesty in "sowing seeds of sincerity at Jiba." After entering the faith, he always maintained unwavering faith in the Parent, relied on the Parent, and contributed and dedicated his sincerity to the Residence. After carefully observing him, Oyasama placed Her absolute trust in him, considering him to be the right person.

At age 22, the Honseki moved to Ichinomoto Village, where he made his living by working as a carpenter. He had a reputation for being "the most honest person among one thousand households," and his congenial personality attracted widespread popularity. When his wife, Osato, had her second miscarriage, and her recovery was not progressing well, Izo was at a complete loss as to what he could do to save her. Childbirth involved a serious risk for women as that was a time when many women lost their lives from pregnancy and childbirth complications. One day, Izo Iburi heard from one of his fellow carpenters: "There is a goddess of safe childbirth at Shoyashiki Village. It is said that She assures salvation from any illness." After hearing this news, he immediately visited the Residence and asked Oyasama to save his wife. That was in May 1864. The details concerning the day of origin of the Honseki's faith are recorded in The Life of Oyasama, toward the end of the chapter three, entitled "On the Way." I am sure that all of you are familiar with it.

When the purpose of his visit was conveyed to Oyasama, She said with great delight: "Sah, sah, I have been waiting, I have been waiting!" Then She added: "Certainly I shall save her. But since this God by the name of Tenri-O-no-Mikoto must be quite new to them, it might be hard for them to believe." At this, Kokan started a three-day prayer and presented Izo with sanyaku (the sweetened and parched barley flour that had been offered to and blessed by God). Izo returned to his home and had his wife take a portion of the sanyaku. This gave her a little relief. Scarcely waiting for day to break, Izo returned to the Residence and informed Kokan of this. He was told by Kokan, "God says, eI shall save her.' Therefore, you must not worry." Izo returned home and had his wife take another portion of the sanyaku, after which Osato began to feel greatly relieved of her pain. That night, Izo returned to the Residence for the third time. It was not long before Osato recovered completely from her illness thanks to the blessing of God the Parent.

We learn from the day of origin of the Honseki's faith the manner in which we can receive marvelous salvation through the blessings of God the Parent.

At first, Oyasama said: "Certainly I shall save her. But since this God by the name of Tenri-O-no-Mikoto must be quite new to them, it might be hard for them to believe." This tells us that, in order to receive salvation, it is crucial to believe in God. Kokan then instructed him, "You must not worry." When we engage in the salvation of others, it is not at all an easy task to bring them to believe in God's blessing right from the beginning. However, in order to help them believe in the blessings of God the Parent, just as Oyasama emphasized, it is crucial for us to have strong belief and firm conviction while we engage in salvation work. At the very moment when the Honseki heard Oyasama's words, he believed wholeheartedly in Her assurance that his wife would be saved. This, I believe, gives us an insight into the source for receiving marvelous blessings. And he must have felt truly grateful for this blessing of salvation. On the second day, he made the one-hour walk from Ichinomoto Village to the Residence three times in order to express his gratitude for the blessing of salvation that he and his wife had been shown. This is something that most people would find very difficult to imitate. Ordinary people would tend to think, "I will visit the Residence tomorrow." But Izo's need to express his gratitude without a moment's delay was much stronger than that of ordinary people, regardless of how small the sign of relief shown to his wife was. I believe that this gives us an insight into the source for receiving marvelous blessings.

Soon, Osato made a full recovery thanks to the blessings of God the Parent, and in the following month, Izo and Osato returned to the Residence together for the first time to offer their gratitude for Osato's recovery. Osato expressed her desire to make some offering to God as a token of her gratitude for having been saved. So the Honseki thought of building a shrine. They not only expressed their thanks in words, but they also implemented making repayment for the blessing they had received. By that time, Nakayama family's main house had been removed, and they were living in an old, dilapidated building with two rooms, one with eight tatami mats and the other with six tatami mats. A gohei was placed on top of a box in the eight-mat room. Upon seeing the state of the Residence, the Honseki may have felt that the building was too shabby to enshrine such a wonder-working God. He thus offered to build a shrine as an offering. His ability to take notice of a situation and consider how to make improvements left a lasting impression on me.

Oyasama's answer was: "There is no need for a shrine. Start building something small." Those words led to the construction of the Place for the Service.

The construction of the Place for the Service, begun soon after the "day of origin" of the Honseki's faith, is one of this path's noteworthy historical events. You can find the details of this in The Life of Oyasama, in chapter four, entitled "The Place for the Service." Oyasama said: "It is to be one square tsubo. This structure of one square tsubo is not for human habitation." She went on to say: "Additions can be made depending on your mind." Those present talked the matter over and decided to build a structure twenty-one feet by thirty-six feet. All agreed upon their respective shares in the construction before setting out. The construction required a large sum of expenses. The Honseki could offere his labor because he was a carpenter by profession, but, for an ordinary laborer like him, the expenses involved in the construction would most likely have been beyond his means.

In a Divine Direction given many years later, it was said:

It began with one tsubo. You might think one tsubo is trifling. Beginnings are such. It was the Seki who said, "I will take responsibility"

Osashizu, May 21, 1907

As we see in this Divine Direction, it was the Honseki who took on the responsibility of completing this task.

It is common sense to make appropriate offerings for the blessings of salvation we have received. And when the Parent who provided those blessings of salvation asks you to do a task which you perceive as an excessive burden, it is quite understandable from human thinking to gently reject it as an impossible task. However, the Honseki obediently took it upon himself. I believe that through the construction of the Place for the Service, the Honseki has shown us an exemplary model of how to accept and take on God's work.

The construction of the Place for the Service thus started in high spirits. On October 26, 1864, a modest ceremony to celebrate the raising of the beam was held. However, on the next day, they were shown an unexpected knot. This knot is generally referred to as the Oyamato Shrine incident. Chushichi Yamanaka had invited everyone to his home, to which Oyasama readily gave Her permission. The group started walking toward Mamekoshi Village in the highest of spirits. When they arrived in front of the Oyamato Shrine, they recalled Oyasama's instruction, "Be sure to pay your respects at the shrine when you pass it on your way." There, they beat the drum and performed the service. Accused of disturbing a sacred prayer being conducted at the shrine, all of them were detained and placed under investigation. Their relatives and acquaintances in the villages tried every possible means to resolve the situation. After an official apology was made, the detainees were freed. Thinking that doing just as instructed by Oyasama had resulted in putting them in a terrible situation, the members who had recently joined the faith dropped out.

In The Life of Oyasama, we read that, one day, Kokan casually muttered to herself that they should not have gone. Oyasama suddenly assumed a grave look and said: "Do not complain! This will be the basis of a teaching in the future."

Resolving the Oyamato Shrine incident incurred unexpected expenses and the construction expenses also increased, thus putting Shuji at a loss how to settle his debts. It was at that time that the Honseki said, "I shall take responsibility for completing the building," and he continued visiting the Residence as before. The Honseki's wife had been saved from the brink of death, and since he was only making repayment for the blessing they had already received, he must have felt that dropping out of the construction would not be an option, no matter what happened.

This is the crucial point for maintaining the faith in the path. Reflecting upon our spiritual life, don't we tend to expect something in return from God for our deeds, thinking that we have done this many good deeds already or we have made this much contribution? However, genuine faith in this path is not the kind of faith where we expect something in return from God for what we have done. Everything we do is done in the spirit of making repayment for the blessings we have already received. I believe that expecting something in return from God is equivalent to thinking that God is somehow indebted to us for our deeds. Because our faith is about making repayment for the blessings we have already received, feeling joy and being grateful for an opportunity to express our appreciation is the correct attitude of hinokishin. We can learn about what genuinely constitutes hinokishin through the Honseki's attitude exemplified in his contribution and dedication toward the construction of the Place for the Service.

The construction of the Place for the Service was finally completed. Seated in Her room with the raised floor, Oyasama conveyed the love of God the Parent to those who came to Her. However, the Nakayama family's living circumstances were not easy. After finishing his carpenter's work each day, the Honseki always visited the Residence, greeted Oyasama, Shuji, and Kokan, and when there were tasks that needed to be done, he would complete those tasks at the Residence before walking back to his home. Izo continued his daily visits for almost 20 years until 1882, when his family moved into the Residence to start their devotion at the Residence as a family. It is said that when Izo was a little late for his daily visit to the Residence, Oyasama would ask, "Is Izo here yet?" showing how much She was looking forward to seeing him.

Toward the end of 1865, when Osato became pregnant with daughter Yoshie, Izo, feeling truly joyous at the prospect of having his first child, visited the Residence every night, always looking forward to meeting Oyasama's family. One night, when a cold wind was blowing in all directions, he visited the Residence as usual. He noticed that Oyasama, Shuji, and Kokan were huddled around an empty hibachi (brazier), freezing in the cold weather. Unable to bear such a sight, he said, "Dear God, it is very cold tonight, so please allow me to stoke a fire." He went out to check the woodshed and found it empty. So he gathered fallen leaves and made a fire in the hibachi. Oyasama expressed Her joy, saying, "Nobody but Izo would visit the Residence on such a cold night to help us out." They continued talking deep into the night, forgetting how fast the time was passing, until Oyasama said: "Izo, you should go home soon since it is already late at night. It may hinder your work tomorrow." Only then did Izo excuse himself to begin his three and a half kilometer walk back to Ichinomoto Village. However, recalling the hardships he had seen Oyasama's family going through made it impossible for him to fall asleep, so he talked to his wife about those hardships through the night. Then, hardly waiting for day to break, he visited the Residence again. In the Divine Directions, we read:

In teaching you this path, I gave you delight in the future. I have brought you through a long journey. We had nothing to burn to warm ourselves in the cold of winter for thirty years. We lived through those years gathering withered branches from here and fallen leaves from there. There is not a lie in what God said. Sah, sah, people will gather from here and from there.

Osashizu, March 31, 1896

This Divine Direction enables us to clearly visualize the situation at the Residence in those days.

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