Taking the Shinbashira Seriously
A student in need of a poetry teacher:
The word "Shinbashira", I believe, literally means the main post or central support of a house. It is used as the title of the leader or central figure of the Tenrikyo religion. I really don't know much about the Tenrikyo organization but a friend of mine once told me that the Shinbashira is a regular guy like anyone else. He has however made the determination to follow the step by step instructions of the model path exactly as they are given and for that reason anything that the Shinbashira can understand anyone else who does the same can also understand. In short, if he can understand it so can we.
Sometime between 1976 and 1977 I got hold of a copy of the poems collected and published as the TIP OF THE WRITING BRUSH ("Ofudesaki") and shortly thereafter had my imagination literally captured by Moonsun (Tsukihi"). I dropped what I was doing and became a Timber ("Yoboku") in 1979. From that time until 1986 I would regularly read the 3rd Shinbashira's sermons and addresses and wonder whether he was just repeating conventional phrases that were expected for the occasions at which they were delivered or whether there was a genuine important message that was intended to be conveyed. One thing I was sure of was that they would not be of much help outside of what we call the vertical mission (people raised within a faith from childhood) and I was doubtful that they were even of much value within the vertical mission. So it was with that state of mind that I read the Shinbashira's Sermon of February 18th, 1986. As usual I read it over and tossed it aside. Later I mentioned to a friend of mine what a waste of time it was reading such things.
Some days or weeks later, having forgotten about it, I picked up that same Sermon and read it again. I did not remember having read it before, nothing seemed familiar, the mind that was reading it was entirely fresh to the material. I was stunned by the clarity of the material that was presented, the more I thought about it, the more I learned and understood. I excitedly recommended it to the same friend that I had told it was a waste and he reminded me that I was now praising the same sermon that I had just panned. Gold is gold when one finds it and everybody makes mistakes or at least I do. Perhaps everyone else has already gotten as much out of the Shinbashira's speeches as is possible. Perhaps not. My intention in revisiting them is to provide whoever might have missed something and maybe even a new reader with the same opportunity to discover treasure that I stumbled into.
From the moment that I read the explanation of the name "Tsukihi", the TIP OF THE WRITING BRUSH has dominated my interest. It was not until I read the Shinbashira's Sermon of February 18, 1986 that I was able to savor every single verse of it. From that point on the Shinbashira's have been my poetry teachers.