As one studies the life of O’Sensei Morihei Ueshiba, the influence of his religion – Oomoto becomes quite apparent. Yet outside of Japan relatively little is known about the Oomoto religion.
As a brief timeline we see the following turn of events in respect to religion and religious study,
At the age of Six, O’Sensei was sent to study at the Jizōderu Temple, but had little interest in the rote learning of Confucian education. However, his schoolmaster was also a priest of Shingon Buddhism and taught the young Ueshiba some of the esoteric chants and ritual observances of the sect, which the Ueshiba found intriguing.
In 1903 – 1907 O’Sensei served in the military in the Russo-Japanese War. He was discharged in 1907. He marries his wife before his enlistment and in 1911 they had their first child.
in 1919 O’Sensei set off for Ayabe, near Kyoto intending to visit Onisaburo Deguchi the spiritual leader of the Omoto religion. Ueshiba stayed at the Ōmoto-kyō headquarters for several days. Within a few months, he was back in Ayabe, having decided to become a full-time student of Ōmoto-kyō. In 1920 Deguchi asked Ueshiba to become the group’s martial arts instructor.
From this point on we know that O’Sensei remained a member of the Oomoto religion until he passed away, to this day Oomoto priests oversee a ceremony in Ueshiba’s honor every April 29 at the Aiki Shrine at Iwama.
So what then are the distinctive of the Oomoto religion? From their website, here is what the Oomoto people have to say,
Q-How is Oomoto like Shinto?
A-The importance of harmony among nature, humans, and gods is a key belief of both. Oomoto’s rituals, architecture, and vestments are based on the ancient original practices that became known as Shinto.
Q-How is Oomoto different from Shinto?
A-Shinto is polytheistic, believing there are many gods – or kami. Oomoto teaches that many kami do exist, but they all come from the same Supreme God of the Universe, so in effect there is just one God. When Oomoto followers pray to a particular kami by name they understand this is just one manifestation of the single God. Even the name “Oomoto” emphasizes this point. It translates as “Great Source” or “Great Origin.”
Q-Is this different from Biblical monotheism?
A-Oomoto is monotheistic but not exactly like Judaism, Christianity or Islam. Religion scholars often describe the Biblical religions as “exclusive monotheism,” meaning the religions believe there is only one God and all others are false. Scholars describe other religions, like Oomoto, as “inclusive monotheism,” meaning the religions believe many gods may exist but all are essentially the same and come from one source; therefore it doesn’t matter under which name or ritual God is worshipped. Oomoto teaches that all gods, religions, prophets and messengers throughout time came from the same source – the Supreme God of the Universe. This teaching is one reason Oomoto is active in interfaith efforts and partly explains why it does not have a strong missionary goal to win converts.
Q-What is Oomoto’s basic doctrine?
A-God is the spirit which pervades the entire universe, and man is the focus of the workings of heaven and earth. When God and man become one, infinite power will become manifest.
Q-What is the essence of Oomoto beliefs?
A-God, with the help of humans, is working to purify and reconstruct the world. When this task is accomplished, God, humans, and all of nature will exist peacefully on earth and in the spiritual world.
Q-What are humans expected to do to help?
A-They should live according to four teachings and four principles. These are fundamental to the Divine Plan and applicable to the lives of all humans. Oomoto also teaches that God gives humans freedom of choice; they have freewill to decide whether to follow these teachings and principles.
Q-What are the teachings?
A- They are: 1) Harmonious alignment with all life and the universe. 2) Revelation of celestial truth and its lessons. 3) Innate patterns of behavior for man, society and the cosmos. 4) Instinctual creative drives.
Q-What are the principles?
A- They are: 1) Purity through purification of mind and body. 2) Optimism, specifically believing in the goodness of the Divine Will. 3) Progressivism as a way to social improvement. 4) Unification or reconciliation of all dichotomies (good and evil; rich and poor; humans and nature; humans and God, etc.) The four can be thought of as a code for right living. By practicing them, humans can live in harmony with the universe and lead a heavenly life in spirit and flesh.
Q-What are some of the things Oomoto followers do to live by this code?
A-They try their best to live a spiritual life on a daily basis. This means taking the broadest view in any situation and trying to understand its essence; turning the heart toward the Divine Light, or Wisdom; trying to understand the will of God; exerting their utmost in all things and all moments; ultimately trusting their lives to God. More concretely, Oomoto followers pray twice a day and conduct a monthly service in their home shrines; usually attend a monthly service at their local branches; read a bit of scripture each day; and try to participate as much as possible in Oomoto’s many activities—pilgrimages, arts, and special rituals.
What I find interesting is that Aikido is all about “the art of peace” and O’Sensei’s goal and vision that Aikido would be central to bringing about this peace. When we we look at some of the texts of Oomoto, they have a very strong focus on “a reconstructed world where there will be no political or religious strife or competition, all will work for the same goals of peace, harmony and prosperity for the planet and all its inhabitants”.
I often wonder if O’Sensei would be encouraged or discouraged by the state that our modern world finds itself in today? My feeling is that he would probably be encouraged, Violence and killing was around in his day like it is ours, yet his movement of pacifism is being embraced by millions around the world. Oomoto has a following of around 170 000 people suggesting that it is a relatively minor sect. Yet the Seventh-day Adventist church, a Christian denomination that shares O’Sensei’s views on Pacifism has over 18.1 million current members and is the second fastest growing denomination behind the pentecostal movement. Adventists show no signs of slowing down and are actively doing the work to promote ideals about Pacifism that I suspect O’Sensei would be very much encouraged by.
There is a great deal more to learn about O’Sensei and his Oomoto religion, yet I hope this introduction may prove to be of some help to give us some initial understanding about what his motivations were both in his religious beliefs and how those beliefs shaped and influenced Aikido.