I Am Blessed Right Here, Right Now
By the Rev. Masao Matsui
Konko Church of Miyazaki-kita
(From the May 2018 issue)
The late Rev. Sadajiro’o Yamamoto reflected upon his first visit to the hiromae (worship hall) of Konko Daijin, the founder of Konko faith, as follows:
“When I went to the hiromae [worship hall] for the first time, and though I still hadn’t said anything, Konko-sama said, “People should know what made it possible for them to be born, and what makes it possible for them to keep living.” I then wondered what Konko-sama was trying to say. While receiving teachings about the favors of Tenchi (The universe), I was deeply moved by each word which seemed to pierce my heart.” (GII: Yamamoto Sadajiro 2)
What I believe Konko Daijin tried to explain to Rev. Yamamoto was that “Humans aren’t born by their own intent nor are they alive by their own capabilities. We were all born into this world because Kami-sama gave us the spark of life and a body. Kami-sama has a strong will to keep us living and Kami-sama works constantly to secure our ability to live. I request that you understand this well. With a good understanding of these truths, you will realize the meaning of practicing faith in our Parent Kami.” I consider this teaching of Konko Daijin important and appreciate it very much.
When I was a university student, there was a senior Konko minister in his nineties that I looked up to. He kindly taught me, “Following the spiritual footsteps of Konko Daijin, being a Konko believer, means that you are able to live day to day, being grateful from the bottom of your heart knowing the truth that you are blessed with many things of the universe and are able to live due to them.”
As a Konko believer, I already knew early on that we were “able to live.” Back in those days, however, I am afraid I knew this only in theory. I was not able to express my gratitude from the bottom of my heart. I am now praying that this important truth will be placed right in the center of my heart and mind as a weighted, steadfast anchor for my spiritual life from now. Please listen to the following story that helped me come to realize the importance of this truth.
The Fourth Konko-sama’s Words and Succeeding A Hiromae
I married my wife when I was working for the Konko Faith Headquarters’ Administrative Office. I was soon appointed to succeed Konko Church of Miyazaki-kita which the grandparents of my wife had founded. But we faced a big challenge before we settled in that church – the Founding Minister, Rev. Tsuyoshi Matsui, passed away at the age of 82.
The year then was 1984.
The loss of the founding minister brought me to the Head Worship Hall in Konko Town. I approached the mediation seat of the worship hall in order to ask the fourth Konko-sama to perform toritsugi (sacred mediation) for me. When I sat before Konko-sama, I suddenly became quite emotional and was at a loss for words. On the envelope of my offering to Kami-sama, I had written about the passing of our founding minister. Looking intently at the words on the envelope, Konko-sama quickly understood why I came over to him at the mediation seat. “Oh dear…he returned to our Parent Kami at 82 years of age. Ikigami Konko Daijin-sama, Ikigami Konko Daijin-sama…” Konko-sama kindly prayed for our founding minister in a quiet voice, chanting the divine title several times in earnest prayer. He then gave me the following words of spiritual guidance,
“Everything happens amidst the blessings of our Parent Kami. I cannot help but respect and admire your founding minister, because he faithfully devoted himself to serving as a Toritsugi Mediator for our Parent Kami all this time being connected to this faith. It was possible because he received Kami-sama’s blessings. Let me remind you to thank our Parent Kami for his great, rewarding life and to pray to Kami-sama for the wellbeing of his mitama-no-kami [spirit]. Do not overthink. Do not let problems that arise and feelings of worry to overtake you. Everyone around the late Rev. Tsuyoshi Matsui must remember him in gratitude – not in sorrow. With this mindset that focuses on the blessings of his hard work, you will all certainly receive divine blessings from now.”
After this experience, I went back to the Miyazaki-kita hiromae, taking the Sacred Rice (Goshinmai) and Konko-sama’s guidance with me. I relayed to the worshipers the teaching I’d received. Then, we were able to hold the funeral service for Rev. Tsuyoshi Matsui with a feeling of gratitude. I was deeply appreciative about this.
Several years passed. I began to serve our Parent Kami at Konko Church of Miyazaki-kita in 1988, having little knowledge of the founding minister. Settling in this place for the rest of my life, I remember and always appreciate Konko-sama’s teaching on a daily basis, “Everyone around the late Rev. Tsuyoshi Matsui must remember him in gratitude – not in sorrow. With this mindset that focuses on the blessings of his hard work, you will all certainly receive divine blessings from now.” As I expressed my feeling of gratitude at the altar for mitama-no-kami every day, I gradually came to seek what aspects of faith in Kami-sama our founding minister cherished and considered important.
Another several years passed and we were preparing the memorial service for the 10th anniversary of our founding minister’s passing. I compiled all of his sermons into one book. By engaging in this task, I had a better understanding of the vital core of his faith. I will humbly discuss it from now.
Rev. Tsuyoshi’s First “Meeting” with Kami-sama and his Tears
Our founding minister, the late Rev. Tsuyoshi Matsui, was born in Okayama Prefecture. At the age of 13, he suffered scrofula, a disease in which mycobacterium of tuberculosis inflames the lymph nodes of one’s neck, causing swelling. Tsuyoshi, as a teenage boy, went to Ooita Prefecture and visited the Beppu Onsen Hot Spring for the sake of treating himself by soaking in the hot water. One day during his stay in Beppu City, a kind person invited him to the Konko Church of Beppu. It was his first ever visit to a Konko church. Rev. Kaichiro Miyamoto, the Founding Minister of the Beppu church, was kind enough to tell him a little about the Konko Faith. But he said that at that time, he honestly didn’t understand what Rev. Miyamoto was talking about at all.
As he went to the Beppu church with that kind person every day, he gradually had a better idea of what kind of existence Tenchi Kane no Kami-sama is and what kind of faith was being practiced. Remembering those days, he said,
“I originally worshiped many Kami and Buddhas at once to try and receive divine assistance. Rev. Miyamoto taught me each day, and I understood that I was able to stay alive thanks to the blessings of Tenchi Kane no Kami-sama, the workings of the universe. Rev. Miyamoto often taught me about the great blessings from the universe, especially the blessings of the earth. Foods that people eat, clothes that people wear, and the houses where people live, they are all from the earth.
Rev. Miyamoto was the first person to teach me that the earth is the body of our Parent Kami. Until I had this deep spiritual understanding, I had blamed my parents for having sent me into this world with such a fragile body. I’d thought that it was the cause of my suffering from scrofula for too long. I had also blamed the Kami for not being able to cure my illness soon enough. At Konko Church of Beppu, I was taught about the blessings of the universe and the unconditional love my parents had for me. Through this spiritual guidance, my heart was gradually and naturally filled with gratitude.”
In this way, Tsuyoshi, even just as a teenager, became so grateful to Tenchi Kane no Kami-sama, who worked tirelessly for him to remain alive. He felt so grateful, he was moved to visit the Konko Church of Beppu every day. At that time however, he did not recover from his scrofula yet. Remembering that time, he said one day, “When I think about what I was doing in the Konko church those days, I was usually worshiping our Parent Kami, always moved to tears and crying.”
The tears he shed at Beppu church in his teenage years, I believe, reflected his enormous joy to have been able to meet with Tenchi Kane no Kami-sama. At the same time, his tears must have reflected the enormous joy of Rev. Miyamoto who mediated for him, the sick adolescent, and that of Tenchi Kane no Kami-sama themselves, both of whom must have thought, “I am deeply glad that you had been able to realize the presence of Kami-sama who works so that you and everyone else can remain alive.”
A person can’t fully understand the awe-invoking nature of Tenchi Kane no Kami-sama at first. Likewise, Tenchi Kane no Kami-sama cannot make us understand it either. We are able to realize this truth by the way of toritsugi (sacred mediation). Thanks to the workings of toritsugi, “Both Kami-sama and people will be mutually fulfilled.”
From then on, Rev. Tsuyoshi Matsui practiced faith in our Parent Kami, Tenchi Kane no Kami-sama, earnestly and passionately for years. Before he knew it, Rev. Matsui was completely cured of scrofula. In addition to this wonderful blessing, Rev, Matsui continued to polish his heart and practice faith at the Konko Church of Beppu. He was later ordained as a Konko minister, and later went to share the faith in Miyazaki Prefecture.
“I Am Blessed Right Here, Right Now”
The Rev. Tsuyoshi Matsui started to spread the Konko faith in 1927. He tried to do so in a few areas of Miyazaki City. In 1932, he finally chose one particular area of the city for his “home base.” Five years were necessary for him to choose one place.
However, in the very beginning of the following year, 1933, he became sick at the age of 31. The disease he suffered this time was called “Tuberculosis arthritis.” The cause of the illness was tuberculosis, which was a fatal disease in those days. He seemed to have been scared of this disease very much, because he saw several tuberculosis patients pass away within a few years after the infection of the ailment. Because of this, he assumed that he would also die within a few years. In that time around 1933, there was no reliable medicine for tuberculosis. So he had no other choice but to wear a gypsum covering from his chest all the way down to his toes. All he could do was eat nourishing foods, and rest.
Looking back on those days, he commented, “I had continuous pain all day and night. Because of the illness and pain, my body became thinner and weaker as the days went by. In those days, I had a two-year-old child and a four-year-old child. I felt enormous sorrow whenever I thought that I might have to leave these little children when I died. This thought worried me so much that I couldn’t even have good, deep sleep at night…
I served our Parent Kami at our church, trembling with the fear of death almost all the time. But the fear and tension that I had in my heart gradually helped me prepare to depend upon our Parent Kami. I relied on Kami-sama with all my might day in day out, and my sickness did not get worse. Every time I welcomed New Year’s Day, being alive, I sincerely thanked Kami-sama that I was still here.”
Ten years after he got the disease of tuberculosis arthritis, he went to the hospital again after a long absence, hoping that he would be able to receive treatments to ease his pain. When he got there, the doctor had a shocked look on his face and said to Rev. Matsui, “Oh, my! How are you still alive Mr. Matsui?! The other patients who began to suffer from tuberculosis arthritis at the same time as you have all passed away.”
When he heard the doctor say so, he thought, “I used to be so frustrated because I could not move my body as freely as I wanted. I felt a huge stress, wondering why I had gotten this disease and why I was not getting well. But I had it all wrong. The other people with this disease, all of them have already passed away. On the other hand, here I am. Still alive. I could have left this world due to this illness at any point, but I am still alive, although I am sick. No matter how people may look at me, and no matter what words the congregation may say, I am now perfectly convinced that I am in a situation full of divine blessings. Even though I am sick, I am being blessed right here, right now.”
Until he heard the words of his doctor at the hospital, he had long thought that he was in a situation with multitudes of suffering – the constant pain, his right leg he couldn’t move freely, and the fear of death that might arrive to him any minute due to his illness. However, at that moment, he fully realized that he was being kept alive thanks to Kami-sama’s blessings, despite remaining sick.
He was still in the same circumstance, but his way to look at it completely changed. It is the doctor’s words that triggered his realization, but I am sure that the path to that realization of Kami-sama’s blessings was because he had long received toritsugi. After that experience, the pain went away little by little and the mycobacterium tuberculosis in the body of our founding minister ceased to exist, although it took some time in order for these positive events to happen.
However, he still had an unbendable right leg for the rest of his life. This must have been quite inconvenient to him. In the last years of his life, he had a stiff body and became totally bedridden. However, whenever worshipers visited our hiromae, he invited them to come over to his bed so that he could continue to guide the worshipers about practicing faith in Tenchi Kane no Kami-sama, our Parent Kami. In this way, Rev. Matsui, in a lively manner, devoted himself to assisting our Parent Kami to help people in need until he passed away at the age of 82 in 1984.
As Rev. Matsui said, “I am being blessed right here, right now.” these are the words that are part of the vital essence of Konko Faith. These words were uttered from the bottom of his heart when he truly realized Kami-sama’s blessings. Because of this, we, the members of Konko Church of Miyazaki-kita, cherish and appreciate these words as we practice faith in Tenchi Kane no Kami-sama everyday.
Kami-sama’s Love and Mercy
In the earlier years of my life, I was able to have a first-hand experience to fully realize the words of Rev. Matsui, “I am being blessed right here, right now.” Please let me share this precious episode with you from now.
When I was 36 years old, I suddenly had a herniated disc, which gave me extremely intense pain. I was not able to move around at all for about half a month. It happened only two days after the Autumn Grand Ceremony at our church. At first, I thanked our Parent Kami, because this trouble began after we held the Autumn Grand Ceremony. I thought I received a divine arrangement. But such a thankful feeling to Kami-sama was all but blown away because the pain on my back got worse and worse and worse.
The painkiller the hospital prescribed for me did not work at all. All I could do in the end was to grip the edge of my futon as hard as I could and almost scream, “Konko-sama!!” All I could do was to rely on our Parent Kami and endure the hardship with continued paitience.
When my agony reached the boiling point, layers and layers of frustration quickly piled up and got to me; “Why do I have to suffer this much even though I have been doing my best to serve our Parent Kami at our church?” and when my wife or children were laughing cheerfully, I would exclaim, “They don’t understand my anguish at all!” The unbearable pain on the back gave me enormous suffering, and that suffering made me a volatile, angry man.
Time passed and it was November 4th, the day to hold a monthly service. I asked my wife to conduct the service on my behalf. I was in the room right behind the altar. I decided to worship while laying in bed, then the monthly service began. Still on my bed, I recited the Kami-sama chanting prayer together with the worshipers with a quiet voice, trying to appreciate the meaning of each word in the prayer.
I then heard my wife recite the Saishi Main Prayer, on behalf of all the worshipers. As I listened to the Saishi in silence, the content of the Main Prayer came into my mind very clearly and smoothly. And I felt an indescribable emotion rise in my heart.
I thought, lying in my bed, “Even if I want to do so now, I cannot stand up. I cannot even crawl around. This whole time, Kami-sama has helped me to serve as a minister generously and mercifully. I never realized this truth – I arrogantly misunderstood for so many years that I had held the Spring and Autumn Grand Ceremonies believing that I did everything solely by my own physical strength and capability. I feel blessed to finally be able to realize Kami-sama’s support. I had also been stupidly angry with my family who was in fact kind enough to work hard to take care of me.” I finally realized that I had been so rude and cruel to Kami-sama, and I felt so sorry about it.
But at the same time despite this, Kami-sama still worked tirelessly to keep me alive, sincerely wishing for me to realize. Feeling along the lines of, “Please practice a sincere faith.” When I realized this, I also realized that our Parent Kami had patiently waited for me to grow and develop my faith with a true heart. At that time, I vividly felt that I was being embraced with Kami-sama’s love and mercy. I thought that Kami-sama was being too good and kind to me, and this feeling quickly filled my heart with enormous gratitude for our Parent Kami.
Then, all of a sudden, I somehow felt that Kami-sama was putting their large hand underneath my back. I then felt Kami-sama was lifting me up gently and slowly. Then I had less and less pain in the areas of the lower back and both legs. This was a turning point for my lingering illness: I began to get well little by little on that day, and in one week or so, I was able to lift myself up from my bed.
In this way, even amidst the sharp pain coming from my herniated disc, I was allowed to receive a wondrous working of the monthly ceremony, which I feel was a working of Ikigami Konko Daijin’s toritsugi. Through this experience, I was able to understand the world of Kami-sama’s blessings which was expressed by Rev. Matsui’s saying, “I’m being blessed right here, right now.” If I am allowed to add some words, I’d like to say that I was able to have a good understanding of this because the former Fourth Konko-sama prayed and mediated for me all the time and because the present Fifth Konko-sama constantly does so for me as well.
Living as a Beloved Child of Kami-sama
Kami-sama grieves over us, when we face suffering. When we forget that Kami-sama is constantly blessing us and helping us to stay alive, we can fall into despair easily feeling so alone. However, Kami-sama will be enormously happy, saying “Kami-sama can also be fulfilled” when we can sincerely express our gratitude in realizing Kami-sama is supporting our lives, no matter what kind of severe circumstances we may be in. In that sense too, when we can express words of appreciation to our Parent Kami, it will also become a solid foundation for us to birth many more divine blessings with Kami-sama for our next difficulty. We will be helped to overcome such difficulties, and thus we and Kami-sama are mutually fulfilled.
In reality, however, I still find it extremely difficult to convey the feeling of my gratitude about “being able to live” to Kami-sama from the bottom of my heart.
I, therefore, try to remind myself of Konko-sama’s teachings, “Everything happens in the divine blessings of our Parent Kami” and “Let us try to sincerely cultivate a heart that feels grateful toward everybody and everything that takes care of us.” Reminding myself of these teachings, I try to make myself say words of gratitude ‘right here, right now.’ Through this self-training, I am gradually coming to say “Thank you, Kami-sama!” for helping me be able to live.
Our Parent Kami constantly holds a firm desire and wish for all of us, “I will definitely help you to live.” And here we are, indeed able to live amidst Kami-sama’s blessings. Now please let me ask you this question: “For what purpose do you think Kami-sama wishes for us to live?” If you kindly allow me to present my view onto this inquiry, I would like to say that Tenchi Kane no Kami-sama, our Parent Kami, wishes us the very best in life, so that we will then be able to take concrete, visible actions to help people around us, knowing we are all cared for by Kami-sama like a parent cares for their children.
When we, humans, are able to say “Thank you” to our Parent Kami for helping us to live, and when we visibly give a hand to people in need, the “Way of Kami-sama and People” where Kami-sama and people will mutually be fulfilled will be opening right before our eyes.
In this Spring Grand Ceremony at the Konko Faith Head Worship Hall today, we would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to our Parent Kami for helping us to live right at this very moment. In addition, I hope we will also pray in this Ceremony that we will be able to fulfill Kami-sama’s wish to do our best to each day and to try and help others around us.