Friday, June 22, 2007

Mahikari in context (3): Imperialism and military indoctrination

Part 2 of this series of posts looked at the Japanese tradition of psychic research into "divine" matters, from Wasaburo Asano and Omoto in the early 1900s, through to the post-war Chidori-kai group. You may have noticed that several of the people mentioned in that context were high-level Japanese Navy personnel. This prompted me to consider the possibility of some sort of military influence on the course of Japanese psychic research, or vice versa, or a bit of both. This question is especially relevant since Yoshikazu Okada himself was an officer in the military.

As mentioned in the previous post, Asano (who founded his psychic science group in 1923) was an instructor at the Japanese Naval Academy, and his brother was a Vice-Admiral. Due to their joint influence, many high-ranking military officials joined Omoto. Omoto had at one stage banned the practice of Chinkon Kishin, whereby the practitioner hopes to be temporarily possessed by the spirit of a deity, but Onisaburo Deguchi revived this practice due to Asano's interest in this technique, and taught it to Asano in 1916. Yutaro Yano, who eventually founded the Shinsei Ryujinkai group, was another instructor at the Naval Academy. He became interested in Omoto when he received the Chinkon Kishin ritual from Asano in 1917. Was it just coincidence that these men were Naval Officers? Why were they so interested in psychic divination mechanisms?

Let's look at what else these men did. Remember, by this time, Japan had already had one war with China, which ended in 1895, and had colonized Taiwan and Korea. Japan already had troops stationed in mainland China, and was intent on acquiring influence, territory and resources there.

Yano resigned from his position in the Navy in 1923, and later went to China where he became am arms merchant for the Japanese military. He was also involved in planning a trip that Onisaburo Deguchi and Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969) made to Manchuria in 1924. Ueshiba was an Omoto devotee and the founder of Aikido. He gave Aikido instruction to numerous high-level military people he had met through Deguchi, and also became a martial arts instructor at the Naval Academy. According to this Aikido Journal article, Ueshiba, too, was originally attracted to Omoto out of interest in the Chinkon Kishin ritual, in 1919. The details are not clear, but it seems Deguchi and Ueshiba's trip was part of some sort of a military scheme towards establishment of a Japanese state in Manchuria, and Yano was the intermediary between Omoto, the Japanese military, and regional Chinese military leaders. This attempt failed, but the military later concocted an "incident" which gave them an excuse to invade Manchuria in 1931, and led to the establishment of a puppet government there under Japanese control.

So far that is four people who were reportedly very interested in the Chinkon Kishin spirit possession technique, and who also happened to be, or have connections with, high-level military personnel.

As mentioned in Part 2, Masaharu Taniguchi, the founder of Seicho no Ie, originally was a member of Omoto, but he left Omoto and joined Asano's psychic science group soon after Asano established it. The present Seicho no Ie website makes no mention of this background. H. Neill McFarland, in The Rush Hour of the Gods (1963), p.151, on the subject of Taniguchi's motivation for establishing his group, says that the orthodox explanation is that in 1929, Taniguchi received the divine message that the material does not exist—there is only "jisso" (reality), the divine life of the mind, the original and essential character of man. McFarland makes no specific mention of Asano's psychic research group. By the time McFarland was researching Seicho no Ie, in the early 60s, perhaps Taniguchi was already downplaying his connection with Asano. McFarland says of Taniguchi, He attended a seance of a spiritualist medium, and while he knew that the whole show was faked, he was much surprised and impressed by the eloquence of the medium.

Now, this is interesting. Did Taniguchi tell McFarland personally that he knew the whole show was faked? Once Taniguchi had established a reputation as a person who channelled the words of God whenever he put pen to paper, did he perhaps wish to discredit the "revelations" other people received within psychic research circles? The content of the Shinri Kenkyukai website gives the strong impression that Taniguchi (and the founders of other new religious groups) believed that these psychic activities were genuine, and a legitimate source of "divine truth". Did Taniguchi actually know it was fake?

This raises the interesting question of whether any of the core practitioners and promoters of psychic research into spiritual matters actually believed what they were doing was genuine. Perhaps they did. After all, the involuntary speaking that occurs during so-called spirit movement and spirit investigation in Mahikari centers can appear to be proof that spirits exist and can talk through people. When one considers alternate possible explanations of such phenomena, such as the ideomotor effect, this "proof" is not so convincing, but many practitioners of Mahikari seem to believe the spirit explanation.

The other possibility is that core figures, such as Asano, Oda, and Ogiwara, did deliberately fake the whole thing. If so, why?

It occurs to me that the spokespeople for "divine spirits" and "gods", during seances or similar, had the potential to wield enormous power, provided of course that they could convince people that their "revelations" were genuine. If the spokespeople themselves were fooled by the ideomotor effect, for example, into thinking that they did channel divine words, then their own beliefs would naturally shape the content of those words. If the attitudes of these people had already been shaped by cultural factors, such as military expansionist propaganda, Emperor worship, and nationalistic Japanese Buddhist doctrines, then it would not be surprising to find nationalistic elements in their "revelations". And we do find that.

Numerous of the new pre- and post-war religious groups, including the ones discussed here, have some sort of notion of a divine plan, in which the world is due for a renewal and rebuilding process, possibly involving the advent of a messiah and apocalyptic events, after which worldwide peace will prevail under a theocracy headed by Japan and the Emperor. Sukyo Mahikari teachings give the impression that this sort of scenario was revealed only to Y. Okada, rather than that he was just one in a long line of leaders who promoted remarkably similar doctrines.

At first glance, this may seem to have little connection with military propaganda, but Japan's military expansion into Asia was promoted as being a "holy war", waged for the purpose of achieving world peace. The Imperial rescript concerning the Tripartite alliance, in 1940, began with, It has been the great instruction bequeathed by Amaterasu that our grand moral obligation be extended in all directions and the world unified under one roof…. We believe that to let all nations seek their proper places and myriad peoples enjoy the piping times of peace are enterprises of unexampled magnitude.

According to The Way of the Subjects, an official document distributed by the Education Ministry and made compulsory reading, until East Asia and the world are united as one on the basis of moral principles, Japan's indefatigable efforts are sorely needed….. Japan's mission of constructing the world on a moral basis originated in the empire-founding itself. ...[Japan] is based on this theocracy: the Emperor rules and reigns his state with a solemn mind of serving the Gods.

Part of the war policy, approved by the Emperor, Cabinet, and Chiefs of Staff around 1941 was The Imperial Government is determined to follow a policy which will result in the establishment of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere and world peace, no matter what international developments take place. (McFarland, pp. 245-249)

You'll notice that the avowed ultimate aim in all the above is world unity under a Japanese theocracy, and world peace. Is this the same sort of world peace that the post-war religious groups all talk about?

The people of Japan were encouraged to believe that they were a superior and benevolent race, and that the people of the rest of Asia would be grateful for Japan's moral and civilizing effect, and glad to be liberated from Western colonial rule. (That last part may have been correct, if it weren't for the millions of deaths and incalculable suffering caused in the process.)

The religions of Japan, including the Zen Buddhists and many of the new religions, not just Shinto, actively supported the war. Given the extent of censorship and suppression of dissent, they would not have survived as religions if they hadn't. Even so, I can't help wondering who influenced whom. Did the nationalistic environment in which Japan's new religions arose shape the "revelations" they received? Or, were military figures specifically attracted to the various psychic research groups because they recognized the potential for using "divine truths" (faked or otherwise) to achieve popular support for their expansionist aims? The world's bloodiest wars have been (and are) religious wars.

Certainly, religious teachings were used to spur on the armed forces. Any man killed in active combat was assured a place in the Yasukuni Shrine as a kami (god). Combatants were taught that karma is inescapable…if they were destined to be killed, they would be, regardless of what they did….and that the best way to die was in service to the Emperor. If they died that way, their families could rejoice in the guarantee that they would be reincarnated as humans within Japan (rather than in a lesser country). The notion of karma makes life way too cheap for my liking.

But I have digressed. I was talking about what various religious groups and leaders actually did. Seicho no Ie distributed its magazines at factories, where they apparently reduced anti-war sentiment and increased productivity of goods essential for the war effort. Taniguchi wrote and distributed slogans which stated that Japan would win the war, since he believed that words had the power to control events. In 1939, Taniguchi's group established the Seicho no Ie East Asia Mutual Harmony Society to send missionaries to spread his teachings in China and Manchuria. At the time, according to McFarland, the government was trying to make religious organizations propaganda agencies of the militarist effort, and since Taniguchi seems to have been an excessively vigorous advocate of militarism and Emperor worship, his missionary activity was allowed (or encouraged). As with other missionaries, part of their role was to promote pro-Japanese sentiment in occupied areas, and possibly also to double as military informers.

In post war years, Seicho no Ie has vigorously supported various nationalist causes, such as the movement to revise the constitution and restore the sovereignty of the Emperor. Wikipedia lists the post-war basic tenets of Seicho no Ie here. For what it's worth, some of these sound rather like Mahikari doctrine. This site also shows their pre-war logo, which has that "rotating" reverse swastika, like the one on the Mahikari Tai badge. Their logo is now a white dove with the words "International peace by faith". Let's hope they've also changed the way they think world peace should be achieved.

As mentioned above, Yutaro Yano was originally a Naval Academy instructor, and had close connections with Asano, Deguchi, and Ueshiba. According to Michihito Tsushima, in Emperor and World Renewal in the New Religions, Yano closely studied the revelations of Nao Deguchi, as well as those of other groups peripheral to Omoto, and the revelations which his own wife received. Yano thus continued to consolidate his own novel religious thought regarding rebuilding and renewal of the world, but he was also greatly influenced by Amatsukyo and the Takeuchi document.

The Takeuchi document was supposedly written in divine-age characters (kamiyo moji), and recorded the lineage of Japanese Emperors back to the beginnings of time. The significance of this, according to Tsushima, was that the Takeuchi document claimed that the Japanese emperor was ruler not merely of the nation and people of Japan, but of all the peoples of the entire world. It is thus not at all strange that this movement showed itself able to attract the attention of certain nationalists and military figures who were sensitive to the issue of a "crisis of legitimation". This was one the "ancient documents" that Y. Okada supposedly stumbled across after he started receiving "revelations" from God, and he cites it as evidence of the "true history" of the world, including his claim that all civilizations began in Japan. Serious scholars regard this document as a fake, but numerous people studied it eagerly in the 20s and 30s, so it is quite likely that Y. Okada was aware of it at that time.

Yano came across the Takeuchi document in 1930. In 1933 he established the Shinpo Hosankai (Sacred Treasures Service Association), with headquarters in his Yotsuya (Tokyo) home.....the association was dedicated to educating and eulogizing regarding the true nature of Japan's "national polity" (kokutai), thus lifting Japan from its current national crisis and contributing toward the achievement of world peace. Then, in November 1934, Yano established the Shinsei Ryujinkai. Its members included Count and Countess Uesugi Kensho, Akaike Atsushi (a member of the House of Peers), retired army colonel Takashima Misaku, viscount Tajiri Tetsutaro, and navy commander Kaseda Tetsuhiko.…and probably Nobuo Shioya.

Despite the fact that the Takeuchi document, and the resultant doctrine adopted by Yano and Takeuchi, supported the notion that the Emperor was divine and the rightful world leader, Shinsei Ryujinkai and Amatsukyo were both suppressed on grounds that they were disrespectful to the current Emperor. Yano died in jail, but Takeuchi revived his group (under the name Dainichikyo) in the post-war climate of religious freedom. Even in that climate, in which hundreds of new religious groups were allowed to form, this group was ordered to disband in 1950 because of its advocacy of ultranationalism, according to the Encyclopedia of Shinto.

In the early post-war years, Shioya and Ogiwara established the Chidori-kai research group, and its meetings were attended by many Seicho no Ie and SKK members. As noted in the previous post, it is possible that these included Y. Okada, but we don't know. Okada's association with Shioya may have begun later (or earlier). We do know that Shioya's "revelations" received from the spirit known as Omine Rosen at this time included the prospect of purification of the world via a major cataclysm, followed by world renewal, then world peace under a theocracy centering on the Emperor. The cataclysm details may have been new "information", but the concept of world renewal under the Emperor certainly wasn't.

We personally don't have a lot of information concerning Makoto no Michi, but various contributors to Japanese Internet discussion sites mention that many ex-military people were attracted to Makoto no Michi (which grew out of the Chidori-kai group), and that the membership of the split-off group, Makoto no Michi Kyokai (established by Shioya), was particularly strongly right-wing. One of its members was Kafu Nakada, at whose house the Tenjo investigation of Okada's soul reportedly took place. It seems fairly certain, as discussed earlier in this series of posts, that Y. Okada was associated in one way or another with one or both of these groups.

One discussion site contributor reports that Makoto no Michi Kyokai is mentioned often in the early editions of the The Mahikari magazine, and that a 1962 copy of the Makoto no Michi Kyokai magazine, Seiwa, refers to Y. Okada as a Yo person and leader of the "Mahikari" group of Makoto no Michi Kyokai members. Incidentally, this was two years after Okada claimed (according to the Mahikari secondary kenshu textbook) that people of the Shinto sects not specifically connected with the Yokoshi tomo-no-kai (the name of Y. Okada's original group from 1959 till 1963) had confirmed his role of Yo, and it was one year before Okada changed the name of his group to Sekai Mahikari Bunmei Kyodan. This is odd.

I've often wondered why I've not been able to find any information in the Shinto Encyclopedia for example, or elsewhere, about the Makoto no Michi Kyokai group, or any evidence of the continued existence of this group. Did Shioya simply disband this group? According to one contributor, it was public knowledge amongst early Makoto no Michi people that some of the Makoto no Michi Kyokai people, including their so-called "Mahikari" group of members, recombined as Okada's new Yokoshi Tomo no Kai group. Another contributor claims to have heard from an old member of the Yokoshi Tomo no Kai group that some of their members came from Makoto no Michi Kyokai, and that Tenjo (fu ji) was practiced in the early days of the Yokoshi Tomo no Kai group.

I certainly hope that someone with access to original resources will be able to check all the above information from Japanese discussion sites sometime soon. If all this information is correct, then this means that Y. Okada was still a member of Makoto no Michi Kyokai as late as 1962, that is, for several years after founding his Yokoshi Tomo no Kai group in 1959 (supposedly in response to the first revelation in Goseigen). In other words, it was a group that he currently belonged to, not some disinterested party, that performed the Tenjo investigation of his soul in 1960. It would also mean that Okada simply used the name of a specific group of Makoto no Michi Kyokai members, known as the "Mahikari" group, when he changed the name of the Yokoshi Tomo no Kai group to Sekai Mahikari Bunmei Kyodan (commonly abbreviated as simply "Mahikari") in 1963 when he registered it as a religion. If correct, the above information might also explain what happened to the Makoto no Michi Kyokai group. Perhaps part of it simply morphed into being Yokoshi Tomo no Kai, then SMBK.

So, who were the other right-wing members of Makoto no Michi Kyokai, apart from Shioya? If the above information is correct, perhaps these were the ones who followed Okada into Yokoshi Tomo no Kai. I wonder if these people included Okada's military academy classmates, Matsudaira and Tomomori, who later became SMBK kanbu, and ultimately became influential leaders within Sukyo Mahikari. Does anyone know when these two joined SMBK (or Yokoshi Tomo no Kai)?

Y. Okada claimed that the doctrine he taught was sourced from divine revelations that he personally received, starting in 1959 (SM secondary kenshu textbook, pp. 1-2). I've been trying to think if Okada's core concepts include anything that I've not seen in the doctrine of earlier religious groups, such as Makoto no Michi, Omoto and SKK, or in Buddhist military propaganda, or in the Chidori-kai Omine Rosen revelations, or in the various "ancient documents", such as the Takeuchi document. Perhaps the 27 okiyome points were new? Perhaps the heavy emphasis on the daily practice of okiyome was new. For a moment I thought that the instruction to build Suza was new, but then I remembered that, in 1934, Yano had begun construction of a "Temple for the Harmonizing of the Deities of Heaven and Earth". Of course I don't know every word of Y. Okada's teachings, so there might be something else of significance that was original.

In short, the content of Y. Okada's teachings, and especially his explicit citation of revelations from Omine Rosen (via Shioya) as valid explanations concerning his role of Yo, and his citation of the Tenjo "proof" that he was the person who had the role of Yo, firmly place Okada in the context of Japan's tradition of psychic research into divine matters. Where does Okada fit in terms of the threads of this current post, namely the military, the war years, world peace, world renewal, Japan, and the Emperor?

The SM organization refers with obvious pride to Okada's military career as an officer. We actually know nothing about what Okada did or did not do in terms of military combat, since he reportedly happened to develop health problems on the two occasions he was sent to combat zones, and was sent back to Japan. However, there is no hint of criticism or regret from Y. Okada concerning Japan's wartime activities. When he was retired from the army for health reasons in 1941, Okada was told he had only three years to live. His response to that news was to reflect that God had made his body, and that he should therefore discard all medical attempts at a cure and leave everything up to God. He decided he should devote what was left of his life to serving God. At this point in the story, the first time I heard it, my cultural background meant that I more-or-less expected to hear "he then devoted himself to feeding the poor", or something similar. In fact, the story ends with the statement that Okada then converted his family's textile factory into facilities for manufacturing war planes.

As recently as 2006, in his monthly teachings, Koya Okada (the current acting leader of SM) referred to when most of the countries of Asia suffered under the colonial rule of the Western powers. As an Asian country, Japan tried to liberate these countries. The English edition of these teachings (I don't know about the Japanese edition) was subsequently edited to remove "of the Western powers" and the final sentence. That he made this statement at all indicates that the leadership of SM still promotes a very distorted version of Japan's wartime activities. In addition, it is compulsory for all doshi trainees at SM's kunrenbu to learn to recite from memory the Imperial Rescript on Education. This applies equally to non-Japanese trainees, most of whom have little or no understanding of the words they are reciting.

In Yano's writings about the divine plan and world renewal, he was quite explicit that Japan's Emperor would rule the world after world renewal. Shioya stated that the world peace after the predicted cataclysm would have the Emperor as its "center". I don’t recall anything quite that explicit in the SM teachings available in English. Y. Okada did teach that all civilizations emanated from Japan, that Japan was the "head" country and other countries were "branch" countries, and that the Emperor ruled the entire world in ancient times. He also taught that the Emperor was divine, that the heavenly world after the Baptism of Fire would be a theocracy, that the whole world would be united, and that there would be world peace.

The question is, what sort of "world peace" did Okada mean? Is this the sort of world peace that non-Japanese members of Sukyo Mahikari might assume he meant…some sort of war-free world where each country retains its autonomy and culture, without impinging on other countries, and where perhaps equality and individual freedoms are the norm? Or, did Okada mean the type of "world peace", under the Japanese Emperor, that Japan's military leaders were aiming at when they were attempting to seize control over Asia?

I hate to think that the enthusiasm displayed by non-Japanese members of Sukyo Mahikari, concerning striving to achieve the world peace promised by Y. Okada, might be based on a huge cultural misunderstanding about what Okada actually meant by the word "peace".


Anonymous butterfly said...


Thank you for your indepth research into the whys and wherefores of those
Japanese spiritual organisations. From all appearances they were intent on
making Japan the mightiest empire in the world with their Emperor as the
kingpin. What a horrible thought if they had succeeded! Imagine the likes of such people as the war criminal Tomomori serving their envisaged Japanese empire demanding obedience at all costs. Sure, peace may prevail but at the expense of being completely controlled and manipulated by fear tactics which is exactly how Sukyo Mahikari rules over its members. Even SM youth groups march mindlessly in military precision for hours. Thank goodness I am not permitted to be in this cult.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke

When we make the unconscious, conscious we can then set ourselves free from those
to whom we gave our power away.


June 24, 2007  
Blogger Steve said...

Hi Anne,
You have put together a really interesting overview, it makes a lot of sense.
It is quite clear that Okada was certainly only one among many of self proclaimed messiahs. It begs the question, has the whole thing been a cynical manipulation to feed his ego or was he caught up in his own fantasy fed by non thinking, non critical gullible followers.

It is a bit embarrassing when we think of the years spent thinking this woo woo pedlar was someone of worth. Your methodical research certainly puts things into perspective.

I rather doubt he could build a religion based on his weird and bizarre supernatural claims today. I have to chuckle when I read the latest publications from SM, his bizarre claims have been watered down to try and portray SM as a happy joyful loving organisation, working for world peace. It is just so twee, so warm and fuzzy.

I guess they need to do this to try and look relevant, the world did not end as Okada predicted in the year 2000, suddenly what he claimed as black and white becomes murky shades of grey.

It must be exhausting for the SM management to keep reinventing themselves to try and attract new members.

An amusing observation is how SM infers it is the original group that Y. Okada started, I wouldn't be surprised if they are verging on fraud.

Through your blog I checked their Japanese web-site and saw the copyright at the bottom of their site - Copyright(C)1959-2007 mahikari, All rights reserved.

They are very naughty, all people have to do is check. Sukyo Mahikari was created by Keishu Okada in 1978, the evidence is on the record, to claim copyright from 1959 is misleading.

SM was created four years after Y.Okada died, any reference in SM teachings that contain the words Sukyo Mahikari together do not originate with him.

Maybe this is a good opportunity for one of the Japanese researchers to track down, and seek the answers -
Is this a legitimate copyright?
Has the copyright been registered? If so when?
If it has been registered, was it registered under the name of Sukyo Mahikari?
If Sukyo Mahikari registered the copyright how does it claim 1959 - 2007, when they did not legally exist before 1978.
Does the copyright only relate to the web-site? Maybe someone should mention the internet did not exist in 1959.

Y.Okada did not predict that his organisation would break up after his death, so much for being a prophet and spokesperson of a supreme god.

To have two organisations claiming legitimacy of 'spiritual' linage, it shows how silly the folly is for people to be caught up in such superstitious nonsense.

SM have a long history of slipping in the words Sukyo Mahikari into their teachings. It must be frustrating for them, Y.Okada never put the words Sukyo and Mahikari together and used the term 'Sukyo Mahikari'.
He called his organisation Sekai Mahikari Bunmei Kyodan.

I also had to chuckle when I saw the image of Y.Okada on the SM site, the SMBK badge he wore was indeed airbrushed out.

One has to consider that the membership dropout rate is very high, so it is easy for SM to invent their history and continue to refine the deception.

New members will never know the factual origins of SM from within the organisation. The older members simply do not read nor question the evidence until they leave and start wondering why they belonged to such a weird group.

Keep up the good work Anne, asking penetrating questions and demanding answers is a sure way of making sense of the murky nonsensical world view, groups like Sukyo Mahikari are trying to peddle.

You are adding to the quiet revolution of reason, in some quarters not so quiet. A large body of people world wide, are fed up with the irrational superstition pushed by groups like SM. It is just so wasteful.

I am optimistic, I hope we humans will eventually evolve out of the need to seek answers to the big questions using blind faith belief systems, as we learn more from the wonderful natural world we inhabit.

We spin through space on this planet travelling 942,000,000 kilometers a year around the sun at 107,000km/h. Personally we are not aware of the speed, we don't feel it.

Now that is awesome!

We look up at the sky on a clear night and see some of our neighbours, something like 50,000 billion billion stars shimmering out there. So much to discover and learn.

Just think about the tens of thousands of living organisms found in a drop of sea water and the evolutionary processes of how they got there!.

Stuff like this really shows how tiny groups like Mahikari really are. They claim to know the secrets of the universe, universal laws for this, universal laws for that, all based on the mutterings of self styled messiahs with a need to 'save' humankind.

How silly, we don't need saving, we just need to grow up.

June 26, 2007  

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