GOD LIGHT ASSOCIATION
GOD LIGHT ASSOCIATION TIMELINE
1945: Takahashi returned from Burma after the Pacific War to a defeated Japan and moved from Nagano to Tokyo.
1960s: Takahashi initiated the Saturday Association (Doyō Kai ), informal meetings based on his spiritual experiences held on Saturday evenings in his home in the Minato Ward of Tokyo.
1968 (November): Takahashi experiences a full awakening of his spiritual self. He changed the name of the group to Divine Principle Association (Shinri no Kai ), but the increasing number of participants made it difficult for Takahashi to continue holding the meetings in his home.
1969 (April 8): The group moved into the Yaoki Building in Asakusa district of downtown Tokyo and changed its name to the Great Universe God Light Association (Dai Uchū Shinkō-Kai ).
1970: Takahashi changed the religion’s name yet again, opting for an English name for the group, God Light Association or GLA (pronounced G-L-A), to reflect the aspirations that the religion to spread beyond Japan.
1971: Takahashi visited a temple of Zuihōkai, (one of several offshoots of the new religion Reiy ū kai) in Higashi Osaka. Zuihōkai merged with GLA and the new entity was called “GLA Kansai.” Zuihōkai’s leader abandoned his religion for GLA and then turned over its temple to GLA which became the Osaka headquarters of the group.
1971: Several books by Takahashi Shinji were published: Discovery of the Heart, Science Collection (Kokoro no hakken: kagaku-hen), Discovery of the Heart, Divine Principle Collection (Kokoro no hakken: shinri-hen), and Discourse on the Heart Sutra: Identifying the Inherent Wisdom (Gensetsu hannya shingyō : naizai sareta eichi no kyūmei ), all published by Sampoh Publishing Co., GLA’s publishing house.
1973 (28 March): GLA received recognition under the Japanese law as a Religious Juridical Person (shūkyōhōji).
1973: Takahashi published The Way of Hungry Ghosts (Gaki-dō). Origin of the Heart (Kokoro no genten), Discovery of the Heart: Actual Proof Collection (Kokoro no hakken: genshō-hen), Human Beings/Shakyamuni Buddha: The Greatest Enlightenment (Ningen shaka idai naru satori) also were published.
1974: Sampoh published Takahashi Shinji’s Guide for the Heart (Kokoro no shishin) and Gaining Insight (Shingan wo hiraku).
1976 (March): At the GLA workshop in Shirohama, Wakayama Prefecture, Takahashi, Shinji acknowledged his eldest daughter Keiko to have been the guiding spirit throughout his life and designated her his spiritual heir.
1976 (June 25): Takahashi Shinji died at age forty eight of kidney and liver disease, although members were quick to claim his actual death resulted from “death from overwork” (karōshi ). Two decades previously, he had also prophesied that he would die at age forty eight and announced this to his wife-to-be when he proposed to her.
1976 (July 10): At the Gratitude and Pledge Ceremony in Tokyo, Takahashi Keiko made a pledge to carry on her father’s work and build a utopia on earth.
1977: The nineteen year-old Takahashi Keiko, a student of philosophy at Nihon University, succeeded her father as the spiritual leader of GLA.
1977: GLA Kansai, refused to recognize Keiko as the spiritual heir of GLA, split from the group, and named one of Takahashi Shinji’s former disciples, Kishida Mamoro, its spiritual leader.
1980: Takahashi Keiko introduced the foundation of her original teachings through the concept of Three Theories: Foundation Theory, (Kiban-ron), Theory of Individual Mission (Jigo-ron), and Theory of Resonant Collaboration (Kyōdō-ron).
1993-2000: Takahashi Keiko developed many spiritual techniques to help members become bodhisattva such as the soul compass (bonnōmap), the personality map (jinsei chizu), and the perception-response-reality (juhatsushiki).
1999: Path of Prayer, now GLA’s sacred text, was published.
2001-present: Takahashi Keiko introduced numerous new techniques and projects: Genesis Project, Reestablishing the Bond with the Big Cross, Overcoming the Bonnō, and Excavating the Bodaishin (the inherent Buddha-mind found in all sentient beings).
Takahashi Shinji (1927-1976), born Takahashi Haruo, was born in the city of Saku, Nagano Prefecture, Japan, on September 21, 1927. Since around the age of 10, Takahashi began to have out-of-body experiences that left him with a sense that he possessed an alternate self or astral body (mo hitori no watashi ) as distinct from his physical body. In his attempt to understand more deeply this sense of an alternate or spiritual self, Takahashi began to frequent the Hakusa Shrine, a small Shinto sanctuary near his home, in order to meditate. Although the Takahashi family was officially registered with a Sōtō Zen Buddhist temple, their affiliation remained but a formal association. In spite of these early spiritual experiences, Takahashi Shinji’s pursuits remained primarily scientific. He attended a military high school and was drafted as an aerial navigator. After World War II, which he spent in Burma, he studied electrical engineering in the College of Science and Technology at Nihon University in Tokyo; he did not graduate.
Takashashi later founded the Koden Industry Co., Ltd., a medium-sized enterprise that manufactured electronic parts. By the late 1960s, Takahashi claimed to be in communication with spirits and ultimately to have achieved an enlightened state through the guidance of these same spirits who eventually revealed themselves to him as Christ and Moses. Takahashi then launched his career as a religious leader writing about his experiences and drawing many to him through his books, dynamic lectures, and charismatic personality.
Takashashi became renowned for his exorcisms of turbulent and malevolent spirits with whom he spoke gently and sent on their way. He called his teachings Divine Principle (shinri ) and True Law (shōhō ) and taught in a way that he believed had once existed during the lifetimes of Moses, Jesus Christ, and the Buddha, all of whom performed miraculous deeds or actual proof (genshō ). Aside from wondrous healings, fundamentally Takahashi taught the Buddhist Eightfold Path (hasshōdō) to his followers combined with a form of Naikan or self-reflective meditation. In traditional Naikan, the practitioner spends a week in an isolated and structured meditation (from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.) that focuses on just three questions in relation to their mother, then father: What did I receive? What did I give back? and What trouble did I cause? As the meditator will inevitably find him/herself in a debtor’s position, Naikan is a sure method of fostering gratitude. Takahashi found the practice invaluable, but the week-long stretch was too long for most people and even dangerous for novices. Thus, he created an abbreviated form of Naikan still based on the cultivation of gratitude.
As a religious innovator, Takahashi also did not believe that religions should seek to be revenue producing. Therefore, throughout his life Takahashi remained employed as the corporate manager of Koden Industry from which he earned his livelihood and supported his wife and two daughters, and sometimes even GLA.
At age forty, when Takahashi Shinji came to realize that the home of his alternate self was a spiritual realm that existed beyond the world of the senses, he initiated the “Saturday Association” (Doyō-Kai ). This took place in his home in the Minato ward of Tokyo where people interested in spiritual development could learn directly from his experiences. This informal gathering gained momentum and developed into the Divine Principle Association (Shinri no Kai) by November, 1968. To accommodate the growing numbers of followers, in 1969 the group moved into the third floor of a building in the Asakusa district of downtown Tokyo and changed their name to the Great Universe God Light Association (Dai Uchū Shinkō-Kai). In 1970, Takahashi changed the association’s name once again to reflect the universality of his message and its globalizing intention by opting for an English name, God Light Association. However, members usually refer to their religion by the acronym GLA, pronounced G-L-A. In 1971, when the second-generation leader of the new religion Zuihōkai, Nakatani Yoshio, encountered Takahashi Shinji in Osaka, he was so convinced of Takahashi’s spiritual authority that he decided to abandon Zuihōkai, to become Takahashi’s disciple, and to follow GLA. He then gave the Zuihōkai temple in Higashi Osaka to GLA to become the religion’s center in Kansai. Since March, 1973, GLA has been designated a legally recognized religion (shūkyōhōjin) protected under Japanese law.
In 1976, Shinji died of kidney and liver failure, although GLA members are quick to affirm that he actually died of “death by overwork” (karōshi ). As the leader of a growing religious organization, a prolific author of books on spiritual topics, the manager of the electronics company he founded, a spiritual guide and exorcist to members of GLA, Takahashi had neglected himself and slept only three to four hours a night. At the time of his death, the membership of GLA numbered some 8,700 persons with particularly strong followings in Tokyo (Kantō) and Osaka (Kansai). Prior to his death, Takahashi had predicted the year of his passing and had therefore been in search of his successor during the last year of his life.
Although he considered the Archangel Michael to be his legitimate successor, he did not know who among his GLA followers possessed this particular identity. However, during a workshop in Shirohama, Wakayama Prefecture (an incident referred to as the “Shirohama Legend”), Takahashi is said to have realized that his eldest daughter Keiko’s soul had been guiding his own soul throughout his life and prior to his birth, and that she had been the Archangel Michael in a past life. They both came to realize this in Shirohama where a soul-to-soul transmission from father to daughter occurred.
After Takahashi’s death, Keiko, then aged nineteen, publicly assumed her identity as the Archangel Michael during a transitional era in GLA known as the Michael Movement. At that time, Keiko often appeared on stage in a long white robe as the archangel and claimed to have been sent by God. Her self-presentation as a spiritual leader and the heir of GLA, which was conducted in the manner of a pop-star promotion, alienated many members at this time and was the source of numerous defections. However, at this time the famous science-fiction writer Hirai Kazumasa joined GLA and wrote the twenty volume Great Magic War (Genma Taisen) in which Keiko served as the model character.
As often happens in religions after the death of their founder, acute tension gives way to an actual crisis as contention arises over the true spiritual heir of the religion. GLA presents a prime example of this phenomenon. Although Takahashi had named his daughter Keiko as his heir in Wakayama, some male disciples who had been close to Takahashi Shinji (Hota Wase, Haba Taketsugu, and Kishida Mamoro) felt that Takahashi had selected Keiko as his heir in a state of diminished health and therefore poor judgment. They considered themselves the legitimate spiritual heirs of GLA. Chino Yūko, who later founded Chino Shōhō/Pana Wave Laboratory, apparently had many visions after Takahashi’s death that convinced her that she was Takahashi’s spiritual successor. Chino’s mother, who was a GLA member in Osaka, approached GLA officials about this prospect but was ridiculed for the suggestion. Chino then went on to found her own organization. Thus, Keiko’s authority and authenticity had been contested on several fronts. GLA consequently experienced a rupture over the successorship of the religion. Kishida Mamoro eventually became the head of GLA Kansai, the only former GLA affiliate that has remained separate from Takahashi Keiko, and continued to focus exclusively on the teachings of Takahashi Shinji. GLA Kansai also continued the practice of past-life glossolalia that Takahashi had commenced in which members spoke in tongues that were believed to be actual ancient languages, mostly of Egypt, Israel, India, and Greece. When Takahashi was alive he would carry on conversations in these past-life tongues with his members.
Tokyo GLA, headed by Takahashi Keiko, faltered during the Michael years and only began to pick up as Keiko found her own style and established her own authority, phasing out some of the practices associated with the former GLA, such as past-life glossolalia. GLA has since grown and changed under Keiko’s leadership and now constitutes a highly organized religious body of some 23,000 members (still one of Japan’s smaller new religions) divided into five age and/or occupational cohorts for whom customized annual seminars and events are regular occurrences. GLA keeps eight major regional centers; they are located in Hokkaido, Tohoku, Okinawa, Hokuriku, Chukyo, Kinki (Osaka, Kyoto, Shiga), Chugoku-Shikoku, and Kyushu. There are sixty-five other centers throughout Japan. The main headquarters (sōgō-honbu ) remains in Asakusa in Tokyo. It now has an active international division that coordinates translations of Takahashi Keiko’s books and fosters limited overseas activity. GLA also owns a retreat center in Yatsugatake, Yamanashi Prefecture, which serves as a summer youth camp for members.
Takahashi Keiko has remained prolific throughout her tenure as GLA’s spiritual leader. Among her titles published by Sampoh Publishing are: The Margins of Life: For Noble Minds Now and Forever (Seimei no yohaku ni: per nobilem mentem et nunc et semper) (1982), Book of Revelation: For the Sake of Eternal Life (Shinsōseiki, mokushi-hen: eien no seimei ni itaru tame ni ) (1992), True Genesis, Book of Heaven: The Whole Truth is Here (Shinsōseiki, tenjo-hen: subete no shinjitsu, ima koko ni ) (1993), Discovery: Approaching the Actuality of the World (Disukabarii: sekai no jissō he no sekkin) (1996), The Path of Prayer (Inori no michi) (1999), The Grand Challenge (Gurando charenji ) (2000), True Genesis, Book of Hell: Now, The Truth Revealed About Souls (Shinsōseiki, jikoku-hen: ima akaraka sareta tamashi no shinjitsu) (2002), Silent Calling: The Shock of the 21st Century (Sairentokōringu: 21 seiki shōdō ) (2002), What you Most Want to know about Life: Toward the Era of the Big Cross (Jinsei de ichiban shiritakatta koto: biggu kurosu no jidai he) (2003), The New Human Force: The Declaration – “I Will Change Myself” (Atarashii chikara: watashi ha kawarimasu sengen) (2003).
Takahashi Shinji’s beliefs and doctrines began with a formidable critique of contemporary Japanese society as one of rampant materialism. He did not limit his critique to “things” but in sermons often critiqued Japan’s obsession with “study” (benkyō). Knowledge and learning were not the object of his critique, but rather the pursuit of knowledge in order to achieve entrance to one of the country’s elite universities that guaranteed a lucrative career upon graduation. For Takahashi, this obsession with education had wrongly placed the emphasis on the acquisition of knowledge as a product among many others in a system infused with greed. As for the religious options available in such a society, namely, Buddhism and Christianity, he considered them to have become formalized and academic, the product of countless scholarly ruminations. As a result, both religions had lost their substance and sustenance, a fact that Takahashi aimed to restore through his True Law (shōhō).
Above all, Takahashi Shinji claimed that each person possessed within themselves eternal life as a reincarnating soul. He saw his mission as one in which to help people make contact with this hidden dimension within their hearts/minds. He taught that after death a person’s soul would enter the world that corresponded most closely with their character as they had lived on earth measured by the amount of light the soul produced; the greater the light the greater the harmony with God. In ascending order, these worlds were: Hell, Astral, Spirit, God, Bodhisattva, and Tathagata. As methods for developing the soul to be harmonious with the laws of nature, he taught the Noble Eightfold Path (hasshōdō) that the Buddha had taught and a form of abbreviated Naikan meditation for both self-reflection and to receive God’s light into the soul.
Takahashi believed that what he called Divine Principle (shinri) or the laws of nature, were ordained by God. These were exactly the same in the times of Jesus Christ, the Buddha, and Moses, the three religious figures on whom Takahashi most focused.
In the sutra that he wrote, Heart Sutra (Shingyō), the universe in which we live is controlled by a Great Divine Spirit (Dai Uchū or Dai Shinrei ) that harmonizes all things. This consciousness is God and the universe is the body of God. Within the universe our planet is but a cell in a larger body, but is considered a great temple of the Spirit that functions as a training ground for souls. All calibers and levels of the spirit reside on earth and move through endless cycles of transmigration through past, present, and future. This transmigration exists so that the souls can perfect themselves. He taught that we live in the material or phenomenal world. When we die we return to the real world. He believed in the soul’s growth through samsara or the trials the soul meets during the course of its life, it rises progressively towards harmony through the development of compassion and love. The ultimate goal of all of this movement is to build a utopia or Buddhaland in accordance with the Great Divine Spirit. Enlightenment then is the harmonization of our microcosm with the macrocosm.
In contrast to her father’s brief seven-year mission, Takahashi Keiko has led GLA now for nearly four decades. During this time she has built on her father’s Buddhistic foundation and further developed the Christian notion of an individual soul with its unique mission. Takahashi Keiko teaches that every soul has a mission at its core that represents its deepest wish or aspiration to fulfill. This desire for fulfillment is what drives the soul to keep transmigrating over many lifetimes. Takahashi Keiko has developed numerous psychological and therapeutic techniques such as the “perception–response–reality” (juhatsushiki ) (ju-hatsu-shiki ), a model of how a person relates to the world which is based on the Buddhist doctrine of “cause–environmental conditions–result” (in-en-kahō ) in which the in is the direct cause of an event, the en is the indirect or environmental condition and kahō is the reality that results. The “perception” (ju) represents the way in which people absorb information through their personal filters. The “response” (hatsu) is the act or expression in the external world based on the person’s partial perceptions. The “reality” (shikii) is a Buddhist term that expresses the reality that follows from the perception and response. People generally have no awareness of their own juhatsushiki , for it is not created anew in each instance but is rather the product of an accumulation of past experiences in both this life and previous lives. The result of strong patterns long reinforced have since solidified into orientations and automatic unconscious responses. Hence, for Takahashi Keiko, because the soul is eternal, it is not a “blank slate” at birth but is already colored in some way. It is important for each person to discover the “color” of his or her own soul. This is the initial work that Keiko sets out to have her members accomplish.
All human actions are the result of the interplay between the inner and outer worlds through the medium of each person’s unique juhatsushiki. Because certain juhatsushiki patterns are consistent they have given rise to four basic personality types or “false selves”: the Over-Confident, the Resentful-Victim, the Self-Deprecating, the Self-Satisfied. Keiko has long used slogans such as: “I will change myself” or “Change myself, and change the world.” Most of the activities she has designed, such as the Shikan Sheets and the Wisdom Sheets, both techniques for written reflections, seek the answer to every problem in relation to that self.
In the current GLA under Takahashi Keiko, members attend seminars in their local area, study groups, and engage individually in activities such as copying prayers from GLA’s sacred text, Inori no Michi/Path of Prayer. Before meetings or encounters, members fill out Shikan Sheets or Wisdom Sheets as ways to reflect on the spiritual state in which they enter a situation and what outcome they hope to shape.
There are five special days during the year when members congregate in large numbers:
New Year’s Assembly (Shinnen no tsudoi) – held on January 1, is the day when members affirm their souls’ aspirations.
Fellowship Assembly (Zenyu no tsudoi) – held in April, celebrates the founding of GLA.
Prayer Assembly (Inori no tsudoi) – held on June 25, commemorates the death of GLA founder, Takahashi Shinji.
Birthday Assembly (Gotanjō no tsudoi) commemorates Takahashi Keiko’s birthday on October 24.
Thanksgiving Assembly (Kansha no tsudoi) – held in December, is the day to reflect on the year past and to recall with gratitude what one has received.
Takahashi Keiko is the current spiritual leader of GLA. Being born in 1956, just a few years after the American Occupation of Japan (1945-1952), when the country was inundated with Western, particularly American, culture has influenced Keiko profoundly. Through her this Western influence has stamped GLA. A graduate of Nihon University in philosophy, most of Keiko’s cultural heroes (with the exception of Mahatma Gandhi and Albert Schweitzer) are secular: Florence Nightingale, Henri Dunant, Rachel Carson, Helen Keller, Copernicus, Heinrich Schliemann, Thomas Edison, Oswald Spengler, Arnold Toynbee, and Andrew Carnegie. In her publications, she has introduced numerous English words in katakana, not easily accessible to older members, but they have given to GLA a modern and international flair.
Takahashi Keiko now presides over an organization divided into five cohorts with events customized according to the age and gender of the members:
University of the Full Heart/Mind (Hosshin Daigaku) is for people sixty years-old and above. These seminars are held at comfortable hotels in various parts of the country.
Frontier College (Furonchia Kareji ) is for men from ages thirty to fifty nine and also working women of those ages.
Youth Academy (Seinen Juku) is for young adults from middle school to age thirty five. This group gathers four times a year.
Mindful Caregiver’s School (Kokoro no Kango Gakkō) is for women ages thirty to fifty nine, or mothers, daughters and wives, all whom identify as caregivers.
Kakehashi Seminar is for boys and girls from third grade to juniors in high school.
Additionally, Keiko launched the Total Human Life Lectures (TL Ningen Kōza) in 1992. These have focused on seven professional areas (business, medicine, education, science, law, art, and drama) with various study groups. As of 2005, some 350,000 members had participated in the series, with multiple repeaters.
Takahashi Keiko is constantly generating new projects or giving old concepts a new life with a novel twist. The official reason is to provide followers with techniques that they find valuable for resolving personal and professional conflicts and that render their lives more meaningful.
Takahashi Shinji had a huge impact on the generation of new religions that arose in the seventies in Japan. Part of his appeal was the frequent use of scientific language and technological metaphors for articulating complex spiritual phenomena. One of his favorite metaphors for the reincarnating soul was “the soul as a videotape” that a person could make contact with and replay. But above all, Takahashi insisted on the experiential dimension of the spiritual world. Miracles were not something that had happened only in the remote past but were anticipated as the signs of a genuine spiritual life in the present. Takahashi’s access to these realms made him both an awesome leader and a beloved teacher. Ōkawa Ryūhō, for instance, founder and spiritual leader of Happy Science, published the Collection of Takahashi Shinji’s Sayings (Takahashi Shinji reigenshū) after Takahashi’s death, claiming to be channeling the spirit of the recently deceased master. Ōkawa initially derived much of his doctrine from GLA. Chino Yūko, founder and spiritual leader of Chino Shōhō/Pana Wave Laboratory, thought herself a reasonable candidate as Takahashi’s successor and derived much of her cosmology and True Law (shōhō) directly from his teachings.
Takahashi Shinji taught his shōhō within a dynamic and open forum that included past-life glossolalia, exorcisms, healings, and lectures. Furthermore, he subsidized GLA by using profits of Koden Co. in his role as corporate manager to fund missionary activities and never sought to be a full-time religious professional.
The GLA under Takahashi Keiko has operated under a different premise. This GLA has sought to create a religion that is self-sustaining and economically productive in order to maintain a staff of professionals, an international office, and a full-time religious leader. Hence, GLA has adopted a corporate model, and adherents are literally card-carrying members. As the religion eschews any overt religious symbolism, GLA buildings look like office high rises though a chapel will be located in some room within the building with photo-portraits of Takahashi Shinji (black-and-white) and Takahashi Keiko (in technicolor).
Joining GLA is easy to do, but becoming a member merely lets one through the door. Once inside, the novice cannot easily be passive without obtrusively drawing attention. There is considerable pressure to become more actively involved, which requires a continuing, and not small, investment of both time and money. Initially, just to learn the fundamentals requires a two-part training course each of which costs 15,000 yen (approximately $150). Seminars then cost from 45,000 to 56,000 yen ($450-560). To attend the professional seminars, engage in mentoring, and demonstrate the proper attitude by volunteering at one of the many GLA offices or events, will require more emotional, financial, and social investment. In this sense, the GLA quickly becomes for a member a total care system.
The GLA has progressively adapted itself to accommodate a secular sensibility chiefly through therapeutic appeals: personality typing, workshops, techniques to connect the interior life to the workplace or home environment. These can produce powerful motivations and perseverance in the face of difficulties. However, this constant micromanagement of a person’s life will not appeal to people who seek more variety and open-endedness in their lives. For GLA leaves no space for a life outside of the institution. An old friendship will no longer be pursued unless the friend is introduced to GLA and represents a potential member.
Whereas Shinji was never more than an arm’s length away, Takahashi Keiko is an onstage presence before several thousand observers. She has the aura of any celebrity along with the full apparatus of bodyguards and a bureaucracy that makes any direct contact implausible. In this sense, she has become untouchable while her teachings are increasingly experienced in video or DVD format to be viewed in the many GLA centers across Japan when one is not actually at one of the mass meetings over which she presides.
But perhaps the greatest risk that the group faces is in its fundamental approach to problem solving. To seek the reason for any conflict within oneself and in this way to discover one’s true self suggests an adaptation to the status quo rather than a more flexible and socially engaged dialogue. Withdrawal and finding the self always responsible rather than seeking changes where they might be most needed, in institutions or the society at large, ultimately represents a highly conservative response. In effect, this softly authoritarian organization makes GLA a hard sell in the West where it easily can appear cult-like in spite of its cultivation of a strongly secular appearance and seemingly pragmatic techniques and methods.
* This profile is based on the author’s PhD thesis. See Whelan, Christal. 2007. Religious Responses to Globalization in Japan: The Case of The God Light Association. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Anthropology, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts.
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Whelan, Christal. 2011. “Metaphorical and Metonymical Science: Constructing Authority in a Japanese New Religion.” Pp. 165-83 in Religion and The Authority of Science, edited by James R. Lewis and Olav Hammer. Leiden: Brill Publications.
Whelan, Christal. 2007. “Religious Responses to Globalization in Japan: The Case of The God Light Association.” Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Anthropology, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts.
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15 May 2015