It should be noted that Sukyo Mahikari was not founded by Yoshikazu (Kotama) Okada , he founded Sekai Mahikari Bunmei Kyodan. Kouko(Sachiko) Inoue became his'adopted' daugher as an adult, changed her name to Okada, later her names changed to Keiju, Keishu and Seishu. She started Sukyo Mahikari in 1978 after losing a court battle to suceed Okada Kotama as the leader of Sekai Mahikari Bunmei Kyodan.
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In 1959, Okada is said to have had his first revelation (Davis:5). The Su God, also known as Revered-Parent Origin-Lord True-Light Great God, is said to have returned to the world after a period of withdrawal (Young 35). The diety appeared to the founder at five in the morning with a revelation. Su God, whose name means "True God of Light," is said to be God of fire, light, and the sun (Young 35). Though lesser dieties failed at the task, Su God's goal is to rid the world of evil spirits, and cleanse the human body of defilements that lead to sickness and unnatural death (Young 35). Defilements refer to the toxins of modernization, like pollution and medicine (Young 35). Su God also promised to bathe the world "in a Baptism of Fire" with a light that heals for followers and a light that destroys for non-believers.
Because Su God defined contemporary troubles as an imbalance between good and evil, he urged Okada to work for balance. Furthermore, he designated 2000 AD as a deadline for the task. According to legend, if society does not succeed at this task, Su God has promised to incinerate the world at this time (Young 36).
Okada's first disciples were local bargirls, and on August 28, 1960, he is said to have officially begun his movement. Orignally called the L.H. (Lucky and Healthy) Sunshine Children, the group later became known as the Church of the World True-Light Civilization (Davis:5). By 1970, Mahikari was a nationwide movement (Davis:5). In November 1968, Okada stirred up interest when he demonstrated his purification method on "Afternoon Show," a television program (Davis:5).
During this period Okada is said to have received continuous revelations, and he recorded them all with great speed. This collection of revelations is now a 486-page Goseigenshu, the Mahikari scriptures (Davis:5). Also around this period he began to regard himself as "God's earthly 'Proxy, Carbon Copy, and Robot'" (Davis:5). At the zenith of his career Okada Kotama recieved the American Academy of Arts' medallion of the Knight's Commander of St. Denis (Davis:6). He also enjoyed a private meeting with Pope Paul VI (Davis:6).
At this point the detail's become a bit ambiguous. According to Sukyo Mahikari instruction, Okada requested his daughter Sachiko's presence while on his death bed. He requested that she succeed him as leader of his movement (Davis:6). Even today, however, there are two claims to the title of Spiritual Leader. In reality, Sachiko's present rival, Sekiguchi Sakae, was publicly inducted as the Leader of the church following the Savior's death in 1974.
An unexplainable "'revelation memo'" allegedly appeared later and indicated that Sachiko should take control (Davis:6). Sachiko, whose changed her name to the religious Keiju, and her supporters gained control of the main shrine and the movement's other properties. Sekiguchi resorted to the courts for assistance and in 1978, the Supreme Court of Japan named Sekiguchi the legal Spiritual Leader of Mahikari (Davis:6). Okada Keiju moved her headquarters to Kanagawa and changed the name of her movement to Sukyo Mahikari. To this day she retains most of her father's followers (Davis:7). Generally speaking, today Mahikari predominantly attracts unskilled blue-collar laborers and lower level white collar workers (Davis:12).
Now that the immediate history of Sukyo Mahikari has been traced, a deeper historical understanding may be beneficial. Winston Davis defines Mahikari as a "conglomeration of several different sources: Shinto dieties, Buddhist hells, Christian eschatology, Japanese nativism [and] occultism..." (94). More specifically, he labels the Church of Messianity the "parent sect" and Omoto the "grandparent sect" (Davis:94). Given Okada's involvement with Messianity, these implications are understandable.
Ultimately, then Mahikari is said to be a sect that grew out of the Omoto sect (Davis:73). Established in 1892, the founder was a peasant woman named Deguchi Nao (1836-1918). Her successor was an adopted son named Deguchi Onisaburo (1871-1948). Under his rule, Omoto reached it's peak of popularity (Davis:73). He was arrested twice, as the Japanese government feared his influence. On the first occassion in 1921, he was not retained for any significant amount of time. However, after his 1935 arrest the government destroyed the sect's headquarters and retained the leader, his wife, and fifty followers for seven years (Davis:73). After his release in 1942, he found he had lost many followers (Davis:73). Membership at its peak was estimated at two million, but 1970 figures estimate 144,000 members (Davis:74). However, out of this group's beginnings, Sukyo Mahikari was (indirently) born. One dominant shared idea is Omoto's miteshiro ("honorable hand-substitute"), which closely resembles Mahikari's Okiyome (Davis:74). The influences of Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Japanese folk tradition (idea of spirits) also emerge in Mahikari's belief system (Davis: 84).
Three Japanese terms play a vital role in the Mahikari belief system (though the gospel cannot be reduced to these three ideas): the practice of Okiyome, the possession of the Omitama, and the practice of butsudan.
First, the Okiyome is the central practice that embodies the most crucial purification process. The word Okiyome means both "cleansing" and "empowering" (McVeigh, 1992a:102). The second definition was assigned as recognition of the "sacred, hidden significance of words" (McVeigh, 1992a 102). Another more inclusive term for the ritualistic cleansing is Misogi harahi. Misogi is the purification ceremony in Shintoism, and Harahi is defined as "purification" or "exorcism" (McVeigh, 1992a:103). McVeigh includes three other variations on the definition of Misogi harahi that embody the functions of the term in Mahikari practice:
Okiyome purifies the physical body, astral body, and the tamahi (also known as the "'main soul and spiritual body'") (McVeigh, 1992a:105). This practice is the only way to dispel evil spirits (Young 36). Now that the symbolic merit of purification has been defined, how is okiyome achieved in practice?
Two kamikumete ("hand-in-hand with God") (McVeigh, 1992a:103), or members sit face-to-face and place his or her hands and feet together. The individual to be "purified" closes his or her eyes. The other individual raises his or her hand with the palm facing the forehead of the individual sitting opposite (Davis:22). Spirit rays, known as reihasen, are filtered through the palm of the believer's hand and these rays expel toxins and evil. Followers believe the "primary soul" lies about ten centimeters behind the forehead, and this is where energies should be focused (Davis:22). This practice and the beliefs behind it are of upmost importance, and play a key role in the purity metaphor (discussed later in this section)that dominates Mahikari doctrine.
The second term of importance is Omitama. This amulet, given to every recruit after a three day training session, is said to be the "source of empowerment" (Young 37). The wearer is guarded by a circle of protective light, and the amulet, if cared for properly, is supposed to accompany the owner into the after-life (often cremated with the deceased) (Young 37). The amulet prevents spirit possession, but still cannot rid the individual of evil spirits already inside. This can only be achieved through Okiyome (Young 36).
Finally, the practice of butsudan, or worship of ancestral spirits at Buddhist memorial altars, plays an important role in Mahikari (Davis:41). Because the spirits that possess are usually resentful ancestors (Young 39), the careful, ceremonial care of ancetral altars helps prevent pain and suffering in life. Mahikari teachings and lectures often provide well defined rules for the ceremonial care of such altars (Davis:42).
The spirits that possess are not entirely evil, but are malicious and therefore dangerous (Young 38). One should note that dieties do not possess. Possessive spirits are not part of the living world or the after-world. They are in the astral world where they wait rebirth, and their fates rest in the hands of dieties under Su God's guidance (Young 38). Possessions are not arbitrary and can always be linked to some reason (Young 38). The act of purification (Okiyome) offers means to find such reasons. During ritual "cleansing" spirits are reminded that such an act of possessing only affects their destiny negatively (Young 38).
Mahikari is known for their view of modern medicine. While rational, modern medical science explains how germs cause disease, it does not offer an explanation as to why (Young 33). "Spirit belief thus draws a tighter net of causality around the experience of what the world-at-large calls misfortune or plain bad luck" (Young 33). This "rebellion against modern rationality" is a manifestation of disillusionment with Western medicine and modernization. Both have the associated costs of pollution, environmental abuse, and impersonal methods of patient care (Young 34).
Brain McVeigh presents a structured analysis of Mahikari's main metaphor of purification. As a central aspect of Sukyo Mahikari's belief system, the role of purity serves to unify and support the closely knit structure. "By employing tha dominant metaphor, different parts of the ideological edifice come to support one another (McVeigh, 1992a:100). The belief in one part leads to the logical acceptance of the other (McVeigh, 1992a:101). The coherent nature of the unified belief system proves to be an alluring quality. A limited number of terms appear again and again: gratitude (kansha), obedience (sunao), and humility of the heart (kokoro no geza) (McVeigh, 1992a:101).
As brightness is related to cleanliness, this concept plays a major role in Mahikari. The dojo (Mahikari church), ancestral altars, and even cups of sake are often lighten with gold trimmings (McVeigh, 1992a:103). The Omitama (amulet) is gold, and even the members' nickname Yoyokishi, or "Sunshine Children," reflects the emphasis placed on this concept (McVeigh, 1992a:104). Japanese people are called Taiyozoku, the "People of the Sun" and Japan itself is called the "Land of the Origin of the Sun." These examples illustrate the importance of brightness in Japanese society at large. Ultimately, True Light (received from the "True Light God") is said to be a "purifying stream of energy" (McVeigh, 1992a:104).
One practice that embodies the role of purity in Mahikari is the ceremonial cleaning/purification of the dojo prior to every Monthly Ceremony. Everything is cleaned and dusted thoroughly, and even the sacred scroll with Mahikari characters written on it (called the Goshintai) is removed and cleaned. The altar is cleaned also (McVeigh, 1992a:106). Before cleaning, members must wash their hands to remove the defilements each time they enter the dojo (McVeigh, 1992a:106). The sacredness of the object to be handled is porportional to the level of cleansing required. One interesting issue still debated is, are menstruating women impure (McVeigh, 1992a:107)? In a belief system where purity lies at the center, this issue becomes crucial. Still, though, no movement-wide consensus has been designated.
In a ritual where the chance of defilement is higher, the behavior becomes more ritualized. Furthermore, the ritual becomes more "'layered.'" This term is defined by wrappings, concealment, indirectness, and classification (McVeigh, 1992a:107). In Japan, wrapping carries social implicaions and indicates respect, social distance, and social status (McVeigh, 1992a:108). In Mahikari, this social practice takes on sacred importance. For example, people often wrap their legs in towels during Okiyome. While Mahikari states this is for warmth and modesty, and respect to Su God, McVeigh ventures that it also represents the liminal status of a member (1992a: 109). In another example, members wear masks and vests when they clean the dojo to protect the sacredness from their presence (McVeigh, 1992a:108).
Next, concealment helps maintain purity and "enhances the mystery, power, and authority" (McVeigh, 1992a:112). Various examples of this mechanism exist in Mahikari practice. Drapes on altars are drawn during morning and evening rituals, and participants are asked to close their eyes (McVeigh, 1992a:112). Members are told never to open their Omitama, and squad members (lowest ranking authority figure in the movement's organization) often refuse to show their manuals to members at large. The manuals contain only fundamental information (McVeigh, 1992a:113). Members are often even reluctant to share notes taken in public lectures. Next, indirectness is another mechanism that helps maintain purity. Japanese social interactions are notorious for "indirectness, circumvention, and lack of frankness" (McVeigh, 1992a:114). Formalized greetings always precede Okiyome and ceremonial claps and bows always precede prayer (McVeigh, 1992a:114). Furthermore, honorific, humble, and polite speech is always used in dojos all of which are indirect by nature (McVeigh, 1992a:115). Finally, classification helps maintain purity in Mahikari. Such order helps keep people and things in proper place. Different towels are labelled for different objects, and different soaps are used for different people (depending, too, on what they plan to handle) (McVeigh, 1992a:115). Required posture and seating arrangements for ceremonies also vary according to careful classifications (McVeigh, 1992a:116).
The cycle of purity, impurity, and purity again exists at all three
levels of existence: cosmos, collectivities, and individual (McVeigh,
1992a:116). On the cosmoc level, a natural process of "world renewal"
flourishes. Natural disasters are means to purge society of impurities. Such
disasters can be seen as communications of Su God, as the diety cleanses the
world, or tells of dissaproval (McVeigh, 1992a:117). On the level of
collectivities, nations and groups endure natural disasters or warfare
because of "collective guilt," and such sufferings are a method of cleansing
(McVeigh, 1992a:118). Finally, on an individual level, three aspects of
purification arise: body (physical), mind (psychological), and soul
(spiritual) (McVeigh, 1992a:118). Purified people enjoy life as Su God
intended with health, harmony, and material well-being. This goal is
obtainable for everyone (McVeigh, 1992a:119).
Please note there is a shortage of reliable Sukyo Mahikari pages in English. The movement's official page in Japanese is listed below. I have also listed below one page maintained by Sekai Mahikari Bunmei Kyodan, the group of which Sekiguchi Sakae maintained control after a legal battle that ended in 1978. Though this group is entirely separate from Sukyo Mahikari, the histories and basic concepts are similar. This group also maintains a "Mahikari- USA" page which may be of some interest to readers. (Information about an official English page or other usful sites about Mahikari would be greatly appreciated. Write to Jackie Fowler at the University of Virginia).
This page is maintained by the United States sector of Sekai Mahikari Bunmei Kyodan, which is entirely separate from Sukyo Mahikari. Because the historic foundations are the same, and some basic beliefs are comparable, I felt this link to be valuable here.
Schauwecker's Guide to Japan
The Schauwecker's Guide to Japan holds the copyright on this page and the information within. As a guidebook, this page includes information about politics, regional issues, entertainment, current events, religion, tradition, history, population figures and more. This site seems to contain reliable information about a variety of facts, and there are links to other facts are included.
This site provides the recent demographic figures of Japan. This site helps one to conceptualize the island nation through the characteristics of the people that live there.
- Davis, Winston. 1980.
- Dojo: Magic and Exorcism in Modern Japan. Stanford: Stanford Univeristy Press.
- Hendry, Joy. 1990.
- "Humidity, Hygiene, or Ritual Care: Some Thoughts on Wrapping as a Social Phenomenon." Unwrapping Japan.. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
- Hurbon, La Ennec. 1991.
- "Mahikari in the Carribean."
. 18(2-3): 243-264.
- Knecht, Peter. 1995.
- "The Crux of the Cross: Mahikari's Core Symbol." Japanese Journal of Religious Studies. 22(3-4): 321-342.
- McVeigh, Brian. 1992.
- "The Master Metaphor of Purity: The Symbolism of Authority and Power in Sukyo Mahikari." Japanese Religions. 17(2): 98-125.
- McVeigh, Brian. 1992.
- "The Vitalistic Conception of Salvation as Expressed in Sukyo Mahikari." Japanese Journal of Religious Studies. 19(1): 41-68.
- McVeigh, Brian. 1992.
- "Learning Morality Through Sentiment and the Senses: The Role of Emotional Experience in Sukyo Mahikari." Japanese Religions. 20(1): 56-76.
- Ohnuki-Tierney, Emiko. 1984.
- Illness and Culture in Contemporary Japan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Reader, Ian. 1988.
- "The Rise of a Japanese New New Religion: Themes in the Development of Agonshu." Japanese Journal of Religious Studies. 15(4): 235-262.
- Young, Richard Fox. 1990.
- "Magic and Morality in Modern Japanese Exorcistic Technologies- A Study of Mahikari." Japanese Journal of Religious Studies. 17(1): 29-50.
Created by Jackie Fowler
For Sociology 497, Spring 1999
Last updated: 12/07/99