From ancient times, there was a tendency to regard all things in the universe, including human bodies, as consisting of what were often called the "four basic elements"--namely, earth, water, fire, and wind. Tenrikyo has taught that each of these elements could be seen as symbolizing or embodying an aspect of God the Parent's providence or workings. Of special importance are the groupings of "fire, water, and wind" (Ofudesaki VI:21; Osashizu, January 13, 1887) and of "fire and water" (Ofudesaki II:40, 47, VI:5-6).
Sah, sah, where there is sincerity, you shall receive sincerity. You may not know what My sincerity is. It is My providence--fire, water, and wind.
Osashizu, January 13, 1887
Know that the distinction between fire and water will be made by the performance of the Joyous Service at this place.
Individually, fire, water, and wind represent the three aspects of God the Parent's providence that are referred to as "Omotari-no-Mikoto," "Kunitokotachi-no-Mikoto," and "Kashikone-no-Mikoto," respectively. In The Doctrine of Tenrikyo, for instance, we read:
Kunitokotachi-no-Mikoto: in the human body, the providence of the eyes and fluids; in the world, the providence of water.
Water and fire, in particular, are considered as indicating the most fundamental aspects of God the Parent's providence as they are associated with the workings referred to as the Moon and Sun.
Listen! This origin is the venerable Kunitokotachi and Omotari.
The true and real God of this universe is Tsukihi [Moon-Sun]. The others are all instruments.
When the workings of fire, water, and wind are treated as distinct from the ten aspects of God's complete providence, the former can be seen as referring to the principle of life force, and the latter the principle of the existence of all things (Ofudesaki VI:21).
Fire, water, and wind may sometimes indicate what may be seen as destructive occurrences representing God the Parent's "regret and anger" (Ofudesaki VI:91, 116, VIII:58). We read, for instance:
Thunder, earthquakes, great winds, and floods: these are from the regret and anger of Tsukihi.
Fire, water, and wind are often used as metaphors. For example, water, which is often a metaphor for the mind, is pure and clear by nature but becomes turbid if mud is put into it. Yet, muddy water can be purified by using a filter. The mud in this analogy corresponds to greed, and the filter refers to God the Parent's intention and teachings (Ofudesaki II:25-27, II:30, III:7, 9-10, 56, 65-66; Mikagura-uta X:4).
Ponder this: no matter how clear the water may be, if you put mud into it, it will become turbid.
Arrange to clear this water quickly. Purify it by using a filter and sand.
In scriptural contexts that liken life to a journey along the path, the difficulties encountered are sometimes expressed, for example, as "a sea of flames," "a deep abyss," and "rain and wind," as in the following passages:
Over steep mountains, through tangles of thorns, along narrow ledges, and through brandished swords, if you come,
There is no telling what kind of wind will blow, what kind of rain will fall, or when these will occur. Whatever path you may be on, rain and wind can present difficulty for you.
Osashizu, January 22, 1894
As for "earth" (ji), rather than being associated with "fire, water, and wind," it occurs in the combination "heaven and earth," besides being part of another extremely important term: "Jiba."(This article was first published in the October 2003 issue of TENRIKYO.)