Konkōkyō (金光教 Konkō-kyō), or just Konkō, is a religion and spiritual way of living of Japanese origin. Originating in Shinbutsu-shūgō beliefs, it is now both an independent religion as well as Sect Shintō, it is now a member of the Kyoha Shintō Rengokai (Association of Sectarian Shinto). It is henotheistic and worships the spirit and energy that flows through all things (musubi, one of the core beliefs of Shintoisim) as Tenchi Kane No Kami, or the Golden Kami of the Heavens and Earth (in Japanese, "Heavens and Earth" also means the Universe). Tenchi Kane No Kami is also referred to as "Tenchi No Kami-Sama," "Oyagami-Sama," "Kami-Sama," and "Kami." In English, Kami can also be called "Divine Parent of the Universe," "Principle Parent," "Parent Kami," "Kami-Sama," or "Kami." many other sects of Shinto believe this energy to be "divine nature", existing on its own.
Konkokyo is sometimes called pantheistic, due to the belief that Kami is omnipresent and is the spirit and energy of the universe. This is also the reason the universe is referred to as “Kami’s body”. However, the difference is that Tenchi Kane no Kami has a consciousness and a will. Kami is seen as our divine parent, offering love, affection, support, protection, and nurturing us through his blessings. It is taught that Kami loves all people of the world no matter their race, religion, gender, and so on. Although mentioned as 'he' in materials for linguistic convenience, Kami is neither male or female.
Bunjirō Kawate (川手文治郎 Kawate Bunjirō, 1814–1883) is recognized as the founder of Konkō-kyō way and teachings, beginning in 1859. He was born on September 29, 1814, in the village of Urami in Bitchū Province (in present-day Asakuchi, Okayama Prefecture) to a farming family. Urami was a small quiet village located about two kilometers northwest of present-day Konkokyo Headquarters. Genshichi was often carried on his father's back and visited various shrines and temples. Given the name Genshichi, he was the second son of Kandori Juhei (Father) and Kandori Shimo (Mother). When Bunji was 13, he received education from Ono Mitsuemon, the village headman for two years.
As Genshichi was the second son and thus not expected to take over the family lineage or farm, he was arranged to be adopted in the fall of 1825. At age twelve, Genshichi was adopted into the Kawate household by Kawate Kumejiro (Father) and Kawate Iwa (Mother), and he was renamed Kawate Bunjiro, or Bunji. He worked assiduously for the prosperity and welfare of his family, and he gained the respect of those around him.
In 1855, at the age of forty-two, Bunjirō went to the local shrine Kibitsu Jinja to do a divination and prayer ceremony as it was his yakudoshi (unlucky age year). He believed he had received a good omen, yet that year suffered from a serious throat ailment, rendering him in a chronic condition and unable to speak or move. He could not receive help from doctors, so he turned to ancient Shinto ritual with the help of his brother in law, Furukawa Jiro, to find the reason of his illness. The deity of Ishizuchi revealed through an oracle that Bunjirō was supposed to die from his illness for offending the deity Konjin. Realizing his mistakes, Bunjirō wanted to apologize to the deity. By this sincere desire to do so, he was able to gain his voice back, to which he was able to apologize to the deity with his own voice. From that time, he then gradually recovered from his illness completely, the experience impacting his faith and beliefs.
As he continued his faith practice from that day, more spiritual experiences occurred, and his faith grew in the Kami and Bodhisattvas. In particular, he prayed most often to Konjin due to the spiritual experience during his yakudoshi year and apologizing for his irreverence to this deity. Over time, his faith led him to pray to multiple kami at once as a composite deity. He understood this composite deity as Nittenshi (The Buddhist understanding of the Sun) Gattenshi (The Buddhist understanding of the Moon), and Kane no Kami (Nigimitama of Ushitora no Konjin). Ultimately, however, this deity revealed themselves through an oracle that they were not a composite deity, but the deity that was the spirit/soul that was the Universal workings and energy, to which Bunjirō understood the name to be Tenchi Kane no Kami.
Thus, Bunjirō practiced his faith in this deity, Tenchi Kane no Kami, who revealed to him many teachings through spiritual experiences. On November 15, 1859 (The date understood as the founding date of the Konkokyo way) Tenchi Kane no Kami asked Bunjirō to give up his farming career, and help people by listening to them and praying for their troubles or requests, and become a priest. In a response, Bunjirō gave up farming and devoted himself to helping others.
He taught others who came to his worship space that Tenchi Kane no Kami "Wishes to help and save people. But can do so only through other people. By helping people, one performs the work of this deity. This deity depends on people, and at the same time, people depend on this deity, in mutual fulfillment."
Before long, the number of visitors seeking advice and spiritual guidance grew, and as well a group of disciples called the deyashiro was formed to help Bunjirō spread the teachings of this deity.
After the Meiji Restoration of 1868, religious policies of the new government temporarily placed limits on Konkokyo teachings, due to Tenchi Kane no Kami not being a formal deity of the Kojiki (the only deities allowed worship and shrines in the Meiji era), however, this provided an opportunity to develop important aspects that ended up preserving Konkōkyo's history and teachings, such as the memoir Konkō Daijin Oboegaki, written by Bunjirō documenting his spiritual experiences and daily living with his faith in Tenchi Kane no Kami. In his later years, he compiled the Oshirase-goto oboechō (Record of Revelations) which documented the spiritual experiences clearly. On October 10, 1883, Bunjirō passed away at the age of seventy.
He was succeeded by his son, Konko Ieyoshi, who became regarded as the successor and spiritual leader to pass on the Konkokyo way of helping others, who was supported by the disciples of Bunjirō.
Subsequently, the Konko family line has been succeeded since then, to which those successors are responsible to be spiritual leaders and guide the proper way of Konkokyo - the teachings of Tenchi Kane no Kami - since Bunjirō's passing.
The present successor and spiritual leader of Konkokyo is the 5th generation son, Heiki Konko.
In Konkokyo, everything is seen as being in profound interrelation with each other. Kami is not seen as distant or residing in heaven, but present within this world. The universe is perceived to be the body of Tenchi Kane no Kami. Suffering is seen as being caused by an individual’s high expectations, unwillingness to compromise, impatience, arrogance, and disregard between the relationship between all things. Konkokyo's beliefs center around the betterment of human life in this world by showing appreciation for all things, living upright, and providing mutual help, and prayer for others. By embodying these virtues, it is taught anyone can become an ikigami, or living kami - one whom helps others unconditionally and has inner peace. An ikigami is not an exalted being or someone with mysterious, spiritual powers. It is the ideal human being who strives to save people from suffering and problems and to make the world a happier place to live in. It is believed that after death, the spirits of those who have passed on remain of the universe, as mitama-no-kami (divine ancestral spirits) in connection with Tenchi Kane No Kami.
Bunjirō taught that one could receive the help of Tenchi Kane no Kami by "having faith in the Kami out of a sincere mind" (known in Japanese as the phrase Jitsui Teinei Shinjin).
Konkokyo believes there is a mutually dependent relationship between Tenchi Kane No Kami and people. People cannot exist without Tenchi Kane No Kami, and Tenchi Kane No Kami cannot exist without people. With air, water, food, and other blessings of the universe, all living things can thrive. In return, Tenchi Kane No Kami asks that people help others, live in harmony with the ways of the Universe, and make the world a peaceful place to live for everyone. By fulfilling Tenchi Kane No Kami's wishes to help others, people bring Tenchi Kane No Kami's virtue to life. Through this mutually reliant and interdependent relationship, both Tenchi Kane No Kami and people can continue to exist and work together to make the world a more peaceful place.
An aspect that separates Konkokyo as a unique way is "Toritsugi" which means mediation. In Konkokyo, Toritsugi (Mediation) is a spiritual practice for people to establish a communication link between themselves and Tenchi Kane no Kami. One can receive Toritsugi by a Konkokyo minister, generally at a Konkokyo church. A visitor enters the church, sits in front of the minister, and says whatever is on their mind. It can be a request to resolve a problem, or a word of thanks.
In Toritsugi, after the visitor says everything they have wanted to say, the minister relays the visitor's words to the spirit of Ikigami Konko Daijin (the spiritual formal name of Bunjirō, who was first taught Toritsugi by Tenchi Kane no Kami.) in prayer. Ikigami Konko Daijin then helps the minister to further relay the words to Tenchi Kane No Kami.
Tenchi Kane no Kami then replies their message to the minister, who will then relay it back to the person.
By understanding the message of Tenchi Kane No Kami's teachings and advice, the visitor can receive guidance to their issues, or feel relieved from anxieties knowing the deity has heard their words. Toritsugi can help the person put a problem into perspective and find solutions from within their own hearts.
Tenchi Kane No Kami asks people to understand their teachings, thus to make people become aware of their relationship with the Universe and the ways of the Universe. By working within the framework of the laws of the Universe instead of going against it, people can avoid troubles which lead to suffering. While Toritsugi at churches is typically performed by ministers, lay members are also encouraged to perform Toritsugi in their daily lives to help others. When they meet people who are suffering, the Konkokyo way is to listen to their problems, support them, and pray for their wellbeing and happiness. Tenchi Kane no Kami wishes for all people to become a mediator and help others.
Konkokyo has churches where people can go to worship and pray. Though Konkokyo believes that Tenchi Kane No Kami is everywhere, and followers of the way can talk to the deity anytime and anywhere, the church is a place to receive assistance and guidance through Toritsugi, and for people to focus their prayers, to appreciate blessings, apologize for any irreverences they may feel they have made, as well as be a safe and calming center for people to visit.
The faith believes that all people came from and are connected by the universe. This means that all people are connected by Tenchi Kane no Kami and there is no one that does not belong. Konkokyo desires to have all people, regardless of race, creed, gender, and occupation, work together to resolve the problems of the world. The faith also respects and accepts all ethnic groups and religions.
All people are regarded as equal regardless of race, religion, gender, occupation, social status, and wealth. Women in Konkokyo are also held in high esteem with many women serving as head ministers at its churches.
Konkokyo also does not impose any restrictions on food and drink. Konkokyo believers are permitted to consume alcohol, caffeine, meat, etc.
Celibacy is also not a requirement for the clergy or anyone. There are no restrictions for Konkokyo believers. As well believers are not obligated or required to pay any dues or make any donations.
The following information is current as of December 1, 2012 (Kondō, 2013, p. 39)
- Churches (教会) 1,550
- Missions (布教所) 10
- Ministers (教師) 3,909
- Ministerʻs assistants/Deacons (補教) 1,855
There are about 450,000 adherents.
Konkōkyō churches and missions are found in the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Germany, Paraguay, and South Korea, and majorly Japan. Due to the Japanese cultural nature of Konkokyo, it has limited churches overseas.
Through its various churches and missions, Konkōkyō has a number of activities and organizations that help fulfill the necessities of modern-day society: Konkōkyō Peace Activity Center, Konkō Library, Konkō Church of Izuo Miyake Homes (India, Bangladesh, and Nepal), Yatsunami Foundation, Shinkō-kai Medical Foundation, Konkō Academy, Wakaba Orphanage, and Katsuragi Memorial Park (cemetery) (Takahashi, 1994).
Relationship to Shintō
Because of Japanese society being deeply intertwined with Shinbutsu Shugo at the time of Bunjirō, the founder, Konkokyo began deeply rooted in Shinto ways, traditions, and rituals - many of which still are present of the ceremonies in the present day.
Due to the Meiji Restoration's new laws on Shinto practices, Konkōkyō was classified as Sect Shintō. This allowed Konkōkyō to continue practicing as a spiritual way without persecution from the government.
As of January 2018, Konkokyo maintains membership in the Kyoha Shintō Rengokai (Association of Sectarian Shinto).
The philosophy, practices, and beliefs of Konkōkyō are aligned very similar to Shrine Shinto; since they both are Shinto practices. Therefore, there are many Konko followers who also consider themselves Shinto.
However, since Konkokyo is not dogmatic; interpretations and understandings in regard to connection to Shinto varies between individuals and regions. However historically and within its nature, as well as rituals and ceremonies, Konkokyo is deeply connected to Shinto practices.
Since Jinja Shinto is the more common organization of Shinto way in Japan, it is thought Konkokyo is different than Shinto. But it is more accurate to say it only differs from Jinja Shinto, but it is still Shinto roots. The only few main differences between Jinja Shinto and Konkokyo are:
- Toritsugi Mediation, which is a practice unique to Konkokyo.
- Not offering items commonly seen in Jinja Shinto shrines; such as ofuda or omamori, due to the teaching from Tenchi Kane no Kami that Konkokyo churches shouldn't be a place that people feel pressured to donate to receive protection from omamori, or need to donate for an ofuda to call to the power of Tenchi Kane no Kami. In addition, if one has the financial ability and wishes to receive the items, it is taught that it is good to support the other kamis and Buddha's shrines or temples instead. This is also why Konkokyo does not have set ritual fees, nor requires donations from visitors or parishioners.
- Konkōkyō has also centralized the Tenchi Kakitsuke [Universal Reminder] as its main focus on the altar and in prayers. Some churches only have a Tenchi Kakitsuke, while others have additional traditional items seen in Shinto shrines, such as sacred mirrors, or gohei, to indicate the presence of the deity.
- Another difference is, while some Konkokyo followers are able to and may revere other Kami, such as Amaterasu Omikami, who is the required most revered deity in Jinja Shinto teachings, Konkokyo places a focus on Tenchi Kane no Kami, and to have an equal respect for all deities, not placing importance on one kami or the other; since they are all part of the universe and should all be equally respected.
- The faith also differs in that it does not believe in taboos including beliefs related to unlucky days, unlucky years (age), and ominous directions. There are no distinctions between pure and impure things or sacred and non-sacred places. There is the concept of places where there is more amount of spiritual power, but the amount of spiritual power is not seen as determining its sacredness, as all is within the universe/nature which is seen as sacred in itself.
- It should also be noted that some churches, especially overseas, have been making modern changes to worship style that are different than traditional Shintō style to be more welcoming to those unfamiliar with Japanese culture.
- New Konkokyo-unique prayers were also written in 1985 from the original traditional Shintō prayers — Amatsu Norito and Ōharae no Kotoba— to Shinzen Haishi [Prayer to Kami], Reizen Haishi [Prayer to Ancestral spirits]. Despite this, some churches overseas and in Japan, keep traditional Shinto ritual, worship, and prayers. It varies greatly from church to church, and a minister by minister basis.
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