Dojo: Senshin Center
Location: Dojo Address: 193 Turnpike Rd. Santa Barbara, CA.
Join Date: Feb 2002
Re: Omoto-kyo Theology
Thanks for writing.
I understand the problem of stacking inferences - which is permissible in the field of History but only as to formulating one's hypothesis. What was problematic, rather, was exactly what I said: That you are going backwards in time in your reasoning. You are looking at the present time, seeing a unified Aikido in the sense of it being demythologized, and then attributing that (hardly supportable) interpretation of Aikido to the designs of Osensei. As I said, the problem with this is that it fails to recognize the discontinuities of history. Moreover, it purports a view of agency that today is simply not acceptable (for one million and one reasons) in the field of History as a whole. This may be one reason why we have lawyers and we have historians -- because these folks do not do the same kind of work in the same kind of way. This is what I have been attempting to suggest for a while now -- that we are perhaps looking at certain things differently because of our training.
As I said before, I feel these differences are really centered on one or two elements in your position that simply cannot be supported historically. THE MAIN ONES TO NOTE ARE THESE:
- There is a difference between demythologizing something (which IS what you first said and IS what I first -- and have only - had a contention with) and saying that we do not need to practice or know Omoto-kyo theology in order to do Aikido.
- There is also a difference between Osensei demythologizing Aikido and/or Omoto-kyo theology and he not feeling that we have to practice Omoto-kyo and/or any of their other traditions and/or practices he himself practiced.
The issue here is with the word "demythologize." In short, you are using it incorrectly. Moreover, because you are using it incorrectly, you have tended to say things that make little sense and/or that cannot be supported historically. Please allow me to explain a bit on this word for those that might not be familiar with it:
Though in Western civilization the act of demythologization goes back to at least the Greeks, the pivotal figure in the History of Religions and who gives us our current meaning of the word -- what one would see if you looked it up in a dictionary -- is Rudolf Bultmann. In short, demythologization means, "the restatement of a religious message and/or myth in rational terms." An example of demythologizing Aikido/Omoto-kyo theology would be my reply to Mark -- which I did in fact call then a demythologization. Osensei did no such thing. Osensei freely expressed his art and his understanding of the art via mythic themes. When you say he did not, when you say he demythologized Aikido/Omoto-kyo theology, THIS is what history does not support. It is an ungrounded claim and therefore likely to be considered false.
More on "demythologization:"
According to Bultmann, the Bible with all of its mythic themes presented a problem for us moderns. We, with our modern worldview, simply were no longer capable of believing what we were reading or hearing. Too many elements now understood as fantastic were in the way of us understanding what was at the heart of the message. As a result, we as a culture tended to throw out the baby with the bath water -- dismissing the inner message (which is True) because of its context (which cannot be True -- by our modern standards). Bultmann sought a solution to this problem by examining the Bible -- and the New Testament in particular -- to see if it presented a deeper message that did not so depend on its mythical themes. He concluded that it did, and, as a result, he concluded that the only purpose of the myths was to give expression to an inner message that was stated for a given and dated culture that is not our own.
Undoubtedly, this kind of thinking that was coming out of Europe at that time had some impact on the World Religion movement and thus also most likely on Omoto-kyo. However, when we see Osensei telling Nocquet that he can keep his beliefs in Christ, etc., we are not seeing an act of demythologization. We are merely seeing an act of religious inclusiveness. There are no attempts to rationalize either the teachings of Omoto-kyo, Catholic Christianity, or Aikido discourse. On all accounts, the mythic themes of each discourse are allowed to remain and moreover they are not thought to be distractions that are false and that prevent us from seeing some inner message that is thought to be true.
Again -- you got the wrong word here. However, as I said earlier to Shaun and to you as well, I do agree with you here again that this sense of inclusiveness (especially religious), that an absence of exclusiveness (especially religious), was indeed part of Osensei's understanding of his art. Yet, there is one more small point here that needs to be addressed and that I feel comes from you misuse of the word "demythologization." Namely, it is your earlier suggestions that somehow Osensei's sense of inclusiveness and/or his lack of exclusiveness were something that was beyond Omoto-kyo theology. I do not believe it is accurate to say that he went beyond said theology when he is in that very act practicing said theology. Allow me to explain…
On top of Japan never really having a religious history of exclusivity (though there were attempts to be sure), Omoto-kyo was itself all about trying to find the inner truths of all religious messages, myths, traditions, etc. In this way, as I said above, there is some overlap with Bultmann's efforts -- only Omoto-kyo, or Osensei, never felt that the mythic themes of a given tradition had to be seen as false and/or therefore rejected. Omoto-kyo, as the tradition states, was into discovering that message that was beyond all racial divisions and all creeds. To be sure, in adopting such a position, they were also aware of other religious traditions that for centuries had practiced no such thing -- that were into exclusiveness, antagonism, war, etc. The World Religion movement, and thus Omoto-kyo, was itself an alternative to this path of intolerance. As I said earlier in the thread, it seems that Omoto-kyo saw itself as a kind of meta-religious movement or a para-religious movement -- as something that met all other traditions in the light of this deeper truth or this deeper bond that all traditions were thought to have in common. So, in a way, they were a religion, and they were not a religion. They were a religion in that they existed in common with all the other religious traditions of the world that stated the universal truth of Man, God, and existence, etc. Yet, they were not a religion in the sense of a tradition that sought exclusive rights to the one and only truth that was theirs and theirs alone. This is what Osensei was exposed to if he was exposed to Omoto-kyo theology.
Now, is it a transcendence of one's theology when one allows for inclusiveness and/or universality if one's theology is itself a message of inclusiveness and/or universality? That is the question to ask as far as determining whether Osensei did or did not teach Omoto-kyo theology and/or base his understandings of Aikido on said theology. It is also the question to ask if one is seeking to determine the basis under which folks were not "required" to learn Omoto-kyo theology, etc. For me, it is Omoto-kyo theology to not have one pressed into learning Omoto-kyo theology. Moreover, it is extremely Japanese, especially during the years in question, to not force anyone into following a specific religious doctrine as a requirement of anything. In fact, as I said, particularly during the years in question, even if Omoto-kyo were not a theology of inclusiveness and/or universality, Osensei probably would have had no epistemological, ontological, or cultural recourse for requiring students to learn Omoto-kyo in order to understand Aikido, etc. Thus, we are not seeing an act of agency -- a conscious intent to demythologize Omoto-kyo theology for the sake of worldwide cultural dissemination. We are simply seeing a man of his times acting in the only way he could have: A man understanding his art and practice through a theology of universality and inclusiveness that was itself loaded with mythic themes.
Why might this be important to note? Well, in many places, in many cultures, we do see a demythologization of Aikido. Demythologization, as a sign of modernity, is indeed something that has become a part of Aikido history. If we want to do that history, we are going to have to distinguish where then the discontinuity arose -- because there is one - because we see no such thing in Osensei's thinking or his actions. Along side this discontinuity, something else has crept in that was not of the Founder's doing nor of his position but like demythologization is indeed a part of Modernity. This is the secularization of Aikido (e.g. the training in Aikido for mundane reasons). For all of its inclusiveness, and for all of its universality, neither Osensei's message or his understanding of Aikido, nor Omoto-kyo theology, can create space for the secular trends we see gaining dominance today. This secularization, in my opinion, is very much related to the discontinuity of the demythologization of Aikido -- as demythologization and secularization tend to always have a close relationship. Nevertheless, this is Aikido history, and thus, for better or for worse, this is Aikido. If we want to understand Aikido history, and thus if we want to understand Aikido in this larger objective sense, we are going to have to be able to note these discontinuities more accurately than the position of "Osensei demythologized Aikido" currently allows for.
Again, thanks for the discussion,