September Monthly Service Sermon 2006

By Honbu-in Toshimi Imamura  (2)

When my father was young, he recorded in his notebooks some of the stories narrated to him by Yoshie, the Honseki's daughter. According to one of those stories, one day when the Honseki visited the Residence as usual after work, he noticed that the altar was empty of offerings such as rice and vegetables. When he commented to Kokan, "There are no offerings on the altar," Oyasama, who was listening nearby, laughed and answered, "God is taking the day off today." On a later occasion, he noticed that the altar lantern was not lit. When he commented on this, Oyasama replied with a laugh, "God is taking another day off today."

It was at that moment that the Honseki's heart was touched. Considering the fact that Oyasama's family was going through severe financial hardships with no offerings on the altar and no oil for the altar lantern, he felt unworthy and almost compelled to offer his profound apology to Oyasama for being able to eat even a bowl of rice porridge at his home. He had been offering five sen out of his daily wages until that day, but after that, he began offering half of his daily wages before heading home.

In the Osashizu, we read:

The last day of every year, every year for nine consecutive years. The mind on that day. There was nobody else who came to help. There was nobody else to rely on. During those nine years, only the carpenter came and took charge of managing everything. Those were days when I rejoiced that he was at last following Me. How could I leave him? How could I forget his dedication? That is why I said that I leave everything up to him, leave any and every detail up to the carpenter.

Osashizu, May 25, 1901

For the nine years starting in 1866, the Honseki always came to spend the last day of each year at the Residence, making sure to complete the preparations for the worship to be held on New Year's Day before going home. On the last day of one particular year, he completed all of the preparations for the New Year's Day worship at the Residence, as he had done before, and then went back home. Since he had no savings, preparations for New Year's Day could not be made at his house.

Osato asked him, "Izo, how are our children supposed to celebrate New Year's Day?"

"I hadn't thought about that," he replied. Although it was already late at night, he visited the houses of his acquaintances and borrowed some rice cakes to create some semblance of a New Year's celebration. Those were some of the stories related to my father by Yoshie Iburi.

Doing God's work and serving at the Residence were matters of the utmost importance to Izo, and he always put his personal and household matters lower in priority. Let us take the Honseki's precious example in sowing seeds of sincerity at Jiba as our model in carrying out our tasks.

In the Kakisage, we are taught:

I shall not tell you anything difficult. I shall not tell you, nor can I tell you, to do this or that. If you should understand the truth that I do not tell and cannot tell, all truths will become clear.

In the Post-Bestowal Lectures, we are taught:

God the Parent does not command us to do anything difficult or force us to do this or that. We are told, rather, that we should take it upon ourselves to seek and understand the truth being taught and settle it in our minds while perceiving God the Parent's intention in providing the teachings. Such is the way to exert our sincerity, which will then be readily accepted by God the Parent.

The Honseki did not do anything that others could not replicate, nothing that was difficult or extraordinary. Although anyone could do as he did, the things he took upon himself were things that nobody else was willing to do. What's more, he was not told what to do. He perceived what he should do and took the initiative to get it done. It is said: "Someone who does not do a task even after being asked is an idle person. Someone who does a task after being asked is an honest person. But someone who does a task even before being asked is a sincere person." I believe that the model of such a sincere person was none other than the Honseki himself.

From early on, Oyasama had been urging the Honseki to quit his work as a carpenter and move into the Residence with his family to start their devotion at the Residence. After receiving divine guidance through his three children's illnesses, Osato and the children moved in first in 1881. Then Izo moved into the Residence in the following year, and his entire family thus started their devotion at the Residence. By then, the pressures exerted by the police had gradually increased and Oyasama was repeatedly summoned and imprisoned by police, thus undergoing hardships. The living circumstances at the Residence were hardly easy. The Honseki had stopped working entirely; therefore, he had no means of earning money. He occasionally built shrines which had been ordered by followers, doing so only at night so that it would not hinder his dedication at the Residence, and he used the meager gratuities he received to make ends meet. One day, Oyasama instructed him, "Izo, I see that life is very hard at present; however, this will only last a short time. Soon, everything will be well. Doing such things only delays the path." After hearing Her comment, Izo gave up his side job at night.

One cold winter day, the Honseki was awkwardly plowing one of the fields that had been returned to the Nakayama family after being mortgaged. While taking a short break and leaning on the plow, all of a sudden he experienced a sharp pain in his abdomen. While ruminating on possible causes as well as possible repentances to make, one thing came to his mind. During that time, people visiting the Residence were few and far between, and the circumstances made it impossible to provide financial assistance for those dedicating themselves at the Residence. Although Izo's family ate their meals with the Nakayamas, they had trouble getting by without any money of their own. Yoshie Nagao reportedly commented, "There were times when we children asked for allowances, and our parents did not even have a two sen coin." Therefore, Osato griped about the family's hardships on more than a few occasions. On one of those occasions, she said: "Considering our present difficulties, we would be so much better off if you went back to carpentry; that way, instead of filling our minds with complaints day after day, we could joyously make financial contributions to God the Parent."

Hearing such comments on a routine basis, the Honseki thought for a moment that what Osato was saying actually contained a grain of truth. Although the members of his family were devoting themselves at the Residence in order to bring joy to Oyasama, the fact that it was causing his wife to harbor complaints in her mind appeared to be disrespectful and unfilial to Oyasama instead. Such was the thought that crossed his mind. And this was followed by the sudden abdominal pain. He repented his mistaken use of mind, immediately went to the Kanrodai to worship, and offered an apology. At that very moment, the abdominal pain disappeared.

Toward the end of the Honseki's life, Rev. Narazo Hirano, who adored the Honseki from the bottom of his heart, came up with the idea of showing appreciation for the hardships that the Honseki had undergone. Knowing that the Honseki loved gardens, Rev. Hirano built an outstanding garden at Koriyama followers dormitory. He invited the Honseki to the garden's completion ceremony, and gave him a heartwarming reception. Soon the time for the meal came, and a full-course meal with second and third entrees was set out before the Honseki. I am sure that the wide variety of delicacies served to the Honseki were the fruits of true sincerity dedicated by Koriyama followers from all parts of Japan.

However, the Honseki sat motionlessly for a long time and did not attempt to touch the feast with his chopsticks. Rev. Hirano and the staff ministers were gravely concerned that they had offended him in some way. Being unable to withhold himself any longer, Rev. Hirano asked the Honseki if there was something he found offensive. To this, the Honseki answered: "Absolutely not! Being treated to such delicacies and such a lavish reception, how could I possibly find anything unpleasant about it. I am overjoyed, overjoyed. But while being treated with such delicacies, I cannot help thinking about what it would have been like if Oyasama had been able to enjoy such delicacies back then. Thinking of Oyasama and feeling undeserving of these wonderful things in such abundance has choked me up." Seated in front of the feast, the Honseki was shedding tears. And everyone at the reception hung their heads and wept. Not a single person uttered a word.

The Honseki knew Oyasama's hardships very well. Following the Oyamato Shrine incident, when no one else visited the Residence, the Honseki had seen first-hand the hardships, loneliness, and alienation at the Residence. He was all too aware that everything was well for him at the present moment precisely because of the hardships that Oyasama had gone through. The more lavishly he was treated, the more he thought of Oyasama, and that made his heart overflow with gratitude, thus making it impossible to bring himself to take even a bite of the delicacies served to him. Being able to understand how he must have felt, I cannot help but have utmost respect for him.

The Honseki served Oyasama and often received instruction from Her. Never forgetting the teachings for a moment, he continued to firmly uphold the teachings for the rest of his life. Some of the stories about the Honseki are found in Anecdotes of Oyasama, the Foundress of Tenrikyo.

One story tells us that Oyasama, holding three grains of rice in Her hand, told Izo: "This is early rising, this is honesty and this is work," and placed them one at a time in the palm of Izo's hand. Then, She continued: "Hold these three firmly in your hand. You must try not to lose them." (Anecdotes of Oyasama, the Foundress of Tenrikyo, no. 29, Three Treasures) Besides this anecdote, there are many stories that have been passed down to us.

One of them is the following story. Possibly giving thought to the day when he would serve as the Honseki, Oyasama gave the following instruction.

By upholding the truth, your body will be upheld. Your body will be upheld by the truth of upholding others. Always uphold others and never uphold yourself. Even after you are given a position where you are upheld by others, it is of utmost importance never to use the mind of arrogance. When you are put above ten people, although you stand and work above ten people, keep your mind beneath all ten. When you are above one hundred people, although you stand and work above one hundred people, keep your mind beneath all one hundred. It is the same with a position above a thousand people or a million. Keep your mind beneath all of them.

The Honseki is said to have told others, "I have been implementing this instruction given to me by Oyasama as the means to receive protection of the body." In another story, when people visited the Honseki's house, they greeted him by bowing deeply. When they thought they had bowed long enough, they lifted their heads only to find the Honseki still bowing his head. On numerous occasions, people had to bow again to the Honseki with a sense of embarrassment.

Whenever the Honseki visited churches, he always talked with others in such a friendly manner that whoever met him for the first time wondered how such an unpretentious and cheerful person could be a proxy of God. To the followers during that time, the Honseki was probably revered as someone equivalent to a living god; however, the Honseki showed not the slightest hint of haughty attitude and treated others while maintaining an unconditionally humble mind.

When we are given higher positions to convey the intentions of God the Parent and are upheld by others, our minds tend to become arrogant without realizing it, and our language, manner, and attitude tend to become haughty. I am convinced that we should make it our habit to always engage in self-reflection. In the Divine Directions, we read:

Moderation is truth; moderation is the path. Moderation is the primary truth for the world. Moderation is a broad path.

Osashizu, January 14, 1892

In honoring the footsteps of the Honseki, Izo Iburi, I have shared some of his achievements. In comparison to the early days in the history of this path, around the time when the Honseki was guided by Oyasama and was going through various hardships, the trend of the times has changed dramatically and we now find ourselves privileged in all aspects of our daily life. However, despite the changing appearances in the manner of engaging in the various tasks of the path, the manner of dedicating our minds to the path so that we can bring joy to God the Parent and Oyasama and have our sincerity accepted by them, should remain the same as before.

Just as we are taught in the words "a model for following the hinagata is close by," let us walk the path of making spiritual growth by allowing the footsteps of the Honseki, Izo Iburi, to serve as an accessible and familiar model for our lives of faith. Thank you very much for your kind attention.

[ BACK ]