Thread: Spirituality
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Old 06-29-2006, 10:44 PM   #84
Peter Goldsbury
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Dojo: Hiroshima Kokusai Dojo
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Re: Spirituality

Warning: Very Long Post Ahead.

George S. Ledyard wrote:
I think that this is the area in which there is the greatest gap in understanding between the way in which O-Sensei understood the values of what Aikido represents, how the Japanese practitioners in general understand what they do, and what the folks around the world have understood it to be.
Yes. There is the observation that aikido is no longer practiced in precisely the religious way that Morihei Ueshiba practiced it There is a constant refrain here these days that Japan has lost its spiritual values, that young people have no 'morals', the term used being not ϗ rinri (= ethics) or doutoku (= morality), but the katakana . It is not clear that the meaning is precisely the same as that of the two older terms. There are horror stories, e.g., young mothers leaving their baby kids in their cars with no windows open while they go off and play pachinko. On the inevitable death of said children, there is a general chorus that young people have lost . On the other hand, there was a general outpouring of 'grassroots' help in the aftermath of the Kobe earthquake and at Hiroshima University we were specifically asked not to fail the large number of students who absented themselves from classes to go and help in the relief work. Usually, the reason given is that Japan 'lost' these spiritual values as a result of the defeat in WWII. The bad old militaristic 'opiate' was swept away, and the certainties that go with it, but apparently much else went as well.

Sometimes in the aikido world the observation and the refrain are put together and causally connected, so have the result that postwar aikido has lost its spiritual values because it is no longer practiced in the religious way that the Founder practiced it. Even a cursory glance at Kisshomaru Ueshibafs writings should be enough to show that this is not the case. There are two observations that can be made in this regard.

1. It would be an interesting exercise to draw parallels between the 'loss of spiritual values' that resulted from the collapse of the Tokugawa shogunate and the 'loss of spiritual values' that resulted from Japan's defeat in WWII. John Dower has produced some impressive work on the latter, but as far as I know, no one has studied the two eras together (perhaps Masao Maruyama).

The phenomenon of Japan's New Religions arose from around 1800 onwards, about 60 years before the Tokugawa shogunate collapsed. This is according to Nobutake Inoue's impressive Shin Shuukyou Jiten, a work that, if translated, might also enlighten popular understanding of Morihei Ueshiba. In other words, the 'loss' of the 'spiritual values' of Tokugawa led to a vast outpouring of substitute systems, all pretty well emphasizing the promise of a better tomorrow, if 'we all stick together' (as Russell Crowe put it in Gladiator) and, most importantly, if we all trust our Founder, who has invariably had personal communication with the Divine. Along with Tenri-kyou, Oomoto-kyou was central among these religions and Ueshiba was the righthand man of the religion's second founder.

The power of the New Religions still exists. However, there has not occurred the general outpouring of new religious forms that characterized the bakumatsu period. Oomoto-kyou soon broke up into factions and offshoots, but a very large number of Japanese (some 10%) officially proclaim belief in some New Religion or other. Recently I was surprised to be visited by a neighbour. She runs a ryokan (actually Jun and his girlfriend stayed there). She wanted me to join the New Religion of which she was an active member (active enough to make house-to-house calls, Jehovah's Witness-style). When I stated that my Catholic Christianity was sufficient, her answer was eerily similar to Morhiei Ueshiba's comment about aikido. There was no problem whatever in being a Catholic and joining this new religion, for doing so would make me a better Catholic: it would 'perfect' or 'complete' my Catholicity. This leads me to the second observation.

2. Japanese have no problems about embracing several religions at once and I think this colours Morihei Ueshiba's views on religion.

Actually, when I retire from Hiroshima University, I could get a lucrative 'second-life' job as a 'priest' at 'Christian' weddings. Christian weddings are very popular nowadays and wedding 'churches' are springing up all over the place, a notable one being a smaller but almost exact replica of Cologne Cathedral not far from Fukuyama JR Station. Of course, I would not need to be ordained. Fake ordination papers would be furnished by the wedding company and I would simply need to look benevolently 'priestly' and unctuous, and speak very good Japanese. My success at the job would depend on making the bride, groom and guests 'feel' sufficiently 'spiritual' on such an important day of their lives. I do not know how to describe this otherwise, in the absence of any cognitive concepts that would come from actual belief. The fact that you can have a echurchf wedding in such a completely fabricated setting is not seen as at all unusual: in fact it would probably be preferred, compared with what would be involved in marrying in a real church.

The fact that 'foreign' religions were not allowed to take root in Japan is well-known. What is more interesting is the extent to which those who do embrace 'foreign' religions actually 'Japanize' the content. In other words, what is the general impact of the history and culture of popular shinto and Buddhism on a religion like Christianity? This is one question. Another would be: to what extent do Japanese regard the New Religions as different from these older eforeignf ones?

It is clear that Oomoto-kyo was syncretistic and simply borrowed liberally from other sources. After all, if you are not tied to a specific credo of Catholic-type doctrine, it is probably best to be as all all-embracing as possible. But Oomoto followed the usual pattern, of a founder who suffered deprivation of some sort, had visions, did things that she should not have been able to do, and (this is important) attracted many followers who found solace in belonging to a large group and also found, in the person of Onisaburo Deguchi, a powerful right-hand man who was able to expand and transform the mumblings of the Founder into a coherent and powerful message. (The parallel with Kisshomaru Ueshiba is striking here.)

One might compare Japan with a country like France, where I stayed for two years as a student of philosophy. Postwar France, like Japan, has suffered a decline in spiritual values, and this would probably be measured by the sharp decline in church attendance. The magnificent cathedrals and churches that are dotted all over France are more like museums or empty shells than centers of a living faith, but the spirituality that has so declined is still expressed in terms of a religion commanding a specific set of beliefs. Where you do not have such a religion, in a country like Japan, because one was never allowed to take root, how do you measure the loss of spirituality compared with what has gone before?

I think I will break off here, otherwise this post will become unmanageably long.

P A Goldsbury
Hiroshima, Japan
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