Founder: Okada Kotama
Date of Birth: 1901-1974
Year Group Founded: 1960
Sacred or Revered Texts: Mahikari members are expected to receive the Holy Teachings, also known as Mioshie, the Mahikari gospel (Davis: 31). The Goseigenshu, the scriptures of Mahikari, is a 486-page collection of revelations that came to Okada during the night. He recorded them with great speed in “‘automatic writing'” (Davis: 5). Members consider all of the Savior’s words part of the Teachings (Davis: 6).
Size of Group: Winston Davis warns that present numbers are difficult to define. 1970 figures claimed 300,000 to 400,000 members. He estimates de facto membership at that time to be100,000 to 200,000 or less (Davis: 7). He ventures further to say 1970 figures represent about 50,000 to 75,000 active members (Davis: 8).
Okada Yoshikazu, who later became known as Okada Kotama, was born in 1901 in Nakayama (Davis: 3). His grandfather and father both tutored feudal lords at Nakayama Castle, and in 1868 with the Meiji Restoration , Okada’s father rose to the rank of major general in the imperial army. Okada’s father’s dying wish was that he follow in the family footsteps (Davis: 3). The young Okada attended military school and served in the imperial guard under the Taisho and Showa emperors (Davis:3). He suffered a back injury while serving in the Pacific War and was subsequently diagnosed with tuberculosis of the spine (Davis: 3). After suffering under the failings of Western medicine, Okada became an active member of the Church of Messianity ( Sekai Kyusei Kyo). This religious gospel taught that suffering results from “dust” that accumulates on the soul. Such dust could be wiped away through the purchase of an amulet and raising one’s hand over another’s forehead (Davis: 3).
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 deity 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 deities 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 bar girls, and on August 28, 1960, he is said to have officially begun his movement. Originally 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 received 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 details 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, who 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 deities, 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 its peak of popularity (Davis:73). He was arrested twice, as the Japanese government feared his influence. On the first occasion in 1921, he was not detained for any significant amount of time. However, after his 1935 arrest the government destroyed the sect’s headquarters and detained 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 figures for 1970 are estimated at 144,000 members (Davis:74). However, out of this group’s beginnings, Sukyo Mahikari was (indirectly) 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).
According to Richard Fox Young, today’s “spiritism” is like “the overflow from a dam that has been stopped up too long” (31). Beliefs in magic and spirits seems to contradict the rationalism of modern society. However, with the exception of Christianity , Japanese Religions have been associated with ancestral worship, worship of household deities, and the “pacification of wandering and angry spirits,” at least until Japan’s modernization (Young 31). Sociologically, one argument could be that magic and religion alike serve to reinforce the institutions of industrial society (Davis:11).
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:
“‘true scrapping to develop the Positive Spirit'”
“‘true scrapping of the body to develop the Positive Spirit'”
“‘true scrapping of the spirit to develop the Positive Spirit'” (McVeigh, 1992a:103)
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 utmost 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 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 ancestral 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 deities do not possess. Possessive spirits are not part of the living world or the after-world. They are in the astral world where they await rebirth, and their fates rest in the hands of deities 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).
Brian 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 the 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 lightened 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 proportional 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 established.
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 implications 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 labeled 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 cosmic 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 deity cleanses the world, or tells of disapproval (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).
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McVeigh, Brian. 1992. “The Vitalistic Conception of Salvation as Expressed in Sukyo Mahikari.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies . 19(1): 41-68.
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Created by Jackie Fowler
For Sociology 497, Spring 1999
Last modified: 07/20/01