“Key to the Joyous Life : Tanno, Joyous Perception”
Tenrikyo Mission Headquarters in America Monthly Service Sermon
November 18, 2018,
By Rev. Marlon Okazaki
Head Minister of the Tenrikyo Southern Pacific Church
Ladies and Gentlemen, Good Morning; Buenos dias, Damas y Caballeros; Yorobun Anyun Haseyo. Mina-sama, Ohayo Gozaimasu. In our monthly service, we have just given thanks and praise to God our Parent and our beloved Mother, Oyasama, in our prayers for World Peace, World Salvation, and the Joyous Life for all our brothers and sisters in the world.
My last sermon in December of 2014 was about Causality. Today I will talk about the key to our Joyous Life, which I believe to be Tanno, which I translate as “Joyous Perception.”
Today, I want to give credit where credit is due. I want to thank my dear wife, Hiroko, and my mom, Kazuko, my sisters, Cherie, Jayne and Roxane, and all my church members for taking care of our church, our kids, and everything else! Nothing that I ever do, is possible without you. And I just want to say thank you and that I love you all, from the bottom of my heart.
I am privileged to give today’s sermon, I thank the bishop for appointing me, and I thank you all in advance for your kind attention.
Now, first of all, who is Joyous here today?
And who here is not having such a good day today? Well, if you didn’t have a good day today or yesterday, it is probably because something didn’t go as you had planned or hoped, or wanted. Am I right?
Well, let me tell you. The fact that you had a good or bad today or yesterday, had absolutely nothing to do with that day being good or bad. Because as Oyasama, our beloved mother, taught us, “every day is a good day.” There is no such thing as a “bad” day. It all just depends on how we perceive the day to be, am I right?
I have another question. How many of you here have iphones or Android smartphones? And, how many of you love your “Hey Siri” or “Ok Google?” Well, I’m an iphone user, and I hate Siri! It always seems to mis-interpret whatever I say. As I mentioned before, my wife’s name is Hiroko.
But, no matter how many times, or how many different ways I say it, Hiroko, Heerooko, Hiiroko, Hirokko, it can never ever get it right. Not once! So I have resorted to name my wife, “Wife” on my iphone. It’s true.
Well, earlier this year, I was driving my mom home from the gym. And I wanted to call my wife, and because I’m a safe driver… I said, and this is a true story, “Hey Siri! Call wife.” And what do you think it said? That’s right, “Which wife? …. ”
At first I got mad, but I suddenly realized how funny it was. But then, my mom says to me, deadpan, “Marlon, Ikutsu wife ga iru no?” meaning, “how many wives do you have?” I laughed even more. It was the best laugh I’ve had in a while. I was just glad it was my mom in the car, and not my “other” wife. So here’s what happened.
I had another wife in my iphone contacts. No, wait a minute, that didn’t sound right. I had another man’s wife in my contacts. Wait, that still doesn’t sound right. Ok, I have a person in my contacts who is the wife of my friend. Better? Ok, so here’s the truth, let me explain the unexplainable. The mysteries of life. Ok, our LA Tenri Judo coach, Takahashi Sensei has a wife, a lovely wife, and I put Mrs. Takahashi’s phone number into my contacts, but I didn’t know her first name, so I just named her “Takahashi’s wife.” And that’s how all that happened. As a disclaimer, in my contacts, she is now known as “Takahashi okusan.” So anyways, I had to explain all of that to my mom.
But the funniest thing happened right after that. I was still kind of mad at Siri because it still couldn’t call my wife. So, I asked Siri an existential question. I asked, “Hey Siri, what good are you?” And do you know what it had the nerve to say back to me, “It’s not about me, it’s about you.”
Oh, I really hated Siri now! Oh my God, I was just about to lose it again. I was again both mad and laughing. But this time, something clicked in me, I really came to feel as if God were directly talking to me, thru Siri (of all people)… Get mad or laugh, your choice. Be happy or sad, your choice. Tanno or not Tanno, your choice.
Long story short, it’s not about anyone else or anything else. Whether you do or do not have a good day, or lead the Joyous Life or not, whether you practice Tanno or not, it’s all about you! You decide! Don’t blame anything on anyone else. Ok, is everyone Joyous now?
Now, I believe that Tanno is the key to the Joyous Life for each and every person on this planet. That is how powerful Tanno can be. Now what is Tanno? What do our scriptures say about it? And what did Oyasama say about it?
First of all, let me tell you what it is NOT. It is not mere GAMAN, or resignation, in just persevering, withstanding, putting up with, or just dealing with a bad situation, something inconvenient, or something you just don’t like. It certainly is not just sucking it up, or just taking it like a man! I have even heard people even use word “tanno” as a verb, like “Just tanno it out man!”
One other thing that Tanno is NOT. Tanno is not about finding joy in things that you should be joyous about. For example, you can’t practice Tanno when you just got married to the love of your life. You can, however, practice Tanno, when your husband, of 17 years, doesn’t wash the dishes or clean up as much as you want him to, but you then say to yourself, “well, I guess he did fix the ceiling fan, didn’t he.” Right Rev. Hiroko? In other words, we can only practice Tanno when life throws us a curve ball, and when things don’t turn out the way we want.
Now, let’s see what The Doctrine of Tenrikyo has to say. :
“Tanno is not merely to be resigned nor is it just to persevere. It is to recognize God’s parental love in all events… into an ever firmer determination to live joyously each day. Thus, even illness or troubles become nourishment for the mind and… afford us the opportunity to… advance in our faith.
As our perception of the divine blessings in every event grows keener day by day, our gratitude to God the Parent comes to be expressed in our attitude and in our actions.” The Doctrine of Tenrikyo, Chapter 8, p. 59
Further, in the Glossary of Tenrikyo Terms, it says:
“[Tanno] indicates a state of mind that accepts one’s situation… and reflects a … positive attitude that flows from… faith in … God. The ability to accept everything with joy comes from the full realization that one is only… alive by… God’s… providence….
God teaches [tanno]… as a way to settle the mind in difficult or negative situations….
What is happening in [your] life may be quite different from what [you] wanted to happen. This is because God is providing for [you] according to the state of [your] mind, not according to what [you] want….
Another aspect of tanno is to focus on… whatever blessing of God [that you] can feel…. [Recognizing these] blessings and finding joy in them, can provide the ability to deal with any situation….”
Glossary of Tenrikyo Terms, p. 179-180
Next, let’s look at what the Second Shibashira, our former spiritual leader, Shozen Nakayama, wrote about Tanno in his book titled, “Lectures on the Doctrine of Tenrikyo.”
“Tanno is often thought of as an attitude of resignation…. however, tanno, which refers to a particular way of settling the mind, means to savor to the fullest the truth of arising occurrences. Thus, it does not signify resignation or negative feeling with which we put up with something…. One should handle the mind in such a way as to maintain joyous perception so that one constantly feels perfectly satisfied, whatever happens. This perception is an important point concerning tanno.”
Lecture on the Doctrine of Tenrikyo, p. 69 – 70
Now, this is how tanno has been described in our Doctrine, the Glossary of Tenrikyo and by the Second Shinbashira, himself. Originally, Tanno is a Japanese word that means “to be proficient or skillful” or “to be satisfied or full, as in after you have eaten a lot of good food.” The Tenrikyo special definition and usage of tanno, is entirely unique to Tenrikyo, and it should not be confused with the present day Japanese dictionary definitions.
As far as how tanno has been translated into English, it has gone through various evolutions within Tenrikyo. First it was coined as “True Contentment,” later as “True Satisfaction” and for the past decade or so has been translated as “Joyous Acceptance.” I must say that as a translator, I have noticed the evolution and improvement of our translations for Tanno.
For a while, I thought I was truly ‘content and satisfied’ with this new translation of “Joyous Acceptance,” but, when I thought about it more deeply, I was like, “how could I ‘joyously accept’ the worst thing that I could imagine ever happening to me.”
Because when I looked up synonyms for the word “to accept,” and I found words such as “to approve of,” “to favor,” “to fancy” and “to like.” The verb “accept” also has an element of ‘condoning’ or ‘validating’ something. And there are just some things in life that I just can’t, “approve of,” “condone,” or “validate.” So something was still lacking in this translation of “Joyous Acceptance” for me. I guess I just wasn’t able to tanno that translation yet.
Whenever I taught the Doctrine of Tenrikyo, I always had difficulty in explaining “Joyous Acceptance” well. However, last year, as I was preparing for my Doctrine class at the 3-month Spiritual Development Course, Shuyoka, in Tenri, I re-read the Second Shinbashira’s “Lectures on the Doctrine” and I was now fixated by how the Second Shinbashira defined tanno as “Joyous Perception.” You don’t have to “approve of,” or “condone” anything, you just need to “perceive” it or view it in a joyous way. And I felt that this was definitely the next new evolution of how to better describe this unique Tenrikyo term of Tanno.
I proposed this “new” translation to my 13 Shuyoka students, and I asked them to discuss it. And they all came back to me and told me that they liked this new translation of “Joyous Perception.” I have to comment that there is never a “perfect” translation for anything, and that what’s good today, may not be good tomorrow. But for now, I personally prefer this new translation, and humbly offer it to you, as how the Second Shinbashira described it.
Next, I’d like to address what Oyasama and our scriptures have to say about Tanno, Joyous Perception. First of all, what did Oyasama actually say about Tanno? There is only one quote regarding Tanno in the Anecdotes of Oyasama, #133:
“Tamezo Yamazawa heard the following from Oyasama around 1883:
‘Tanno is true sincerity.’
Next, let’s see where Tanno comes out in our three Holy Scriptures. First of all, the word “tanno” does not appear in the Mikagura-uta, Song for the Service.
Secondly, what about the scripture of the Ofudesaki? “Tanno,” again does not come out.
And finally, in the Osashizu, the Divine Directions, how many times does the word tanno come out? Is it five or 500 times? Tanno comes out in 1283 Divine Directions. How do I know? Believe it or not, I counted, and read every one. So we can see here that Tanno is a very important word in the Divine Directions, which makes sense, because these were mainly given to individual followers on how they should perceive things and conduct their lives of faith.
Let’s now look at what the Divine Directions say about tanno.
“Reflect on everything in your lifetime and practice tanno. Practice tanno in whatever you see. Practice tanno in whatever you hear. This is how you should lead your life.” Osashizu, June 21, 1890, 9:15pm
“The world is a mirror. In accord with your mind, it has been reflected on your body…. Everything has been reflected according to your minds. Each of you needs to listen well. Listen and understand well the one truth of Tanno—it is sincerity alone.”
Osashizu, January 23, 1888
“Only when there is sincerity does the mind of Tanno settle. There is nothing more acceptable than Tanno. Tanno is sincerity. Sincerity is the truth of heaven.”
Osashizu, May 13, 1890
“Practicing tanno in difficult circumstances is true sincerity.”
Osashizu, November 29, 1901
“You must fully convey Tanno.” Osashizu, November 4, 1887
“Offer your mind of Tanno to God.” Osashizu, September 30, 1887
Now why should we even practice this Tanno? Well, one of its main benefits to us, is that we shall be able to erase negative causality through the practice of Tanno. In the Divine Directions it is also written,
“Tanno is sincerity. God likes Tanno. God accepts it.” Osashizu of 1887
“Tanno is repentance for past life negative causality. If it is only for one generation, this cannot be called Tanno.” Osashizu, November, 19, 1897
“You are not to think of it as for just one generation. The truth is for all generations in the future…and look at the difficulties in the world and practice Tanno.” Osashizu, April, 19, 1897
“I say that Tanno is sincerity. If true sincerity, I must accept it. If I accept it, you will have a promising distant future, generations after generations to come.”
Osashizu, May 17, 1898
So in these Divine Directions, we see that Tanno, will not only erase negative causality, for us, but if our tanno is sincere, it will be accepted for future generations.
Further, let’s be brutally honest about what we complain about the most in our daily lives. Now, for most married couples, who do we complain about the most? Is it the mailman? Is it the cable guy?! No! I think not. It’s our spouses, right? Let’s be honest. Well, I have an interesting Divine Direction for you married folks out there.
“The one truth of Tanno should practiced between husband and wife. I say this is to be practiced mutually. Sah, I tell you, that if you settle this one truth firmly in your minds from now on, everything shall go well as you wish.” Osashizu, July 19, 1897
Further, for the young couples with little kids, like our Morimoto’s and Watanabe’s, and maybe even Yoichi Nakagawa’s, God even instructs us as follows,
“If the truth of tanno alone is settled, no more shall there be, the cries of the child at night.” Osashizu, April 20, 1891
So what this means is that if husband and wife, like you, Secretaries Morimoto and Watanabe and your beautiful okusan’s, practice tanno mutually, then your kids won’t be crying at night, which means 1) you will get more sleep, and 2) you will have more time to practice more fruitful things. Good for you.
Now speaking of practicing, the next question is how can we better practice Tanno. The Divine Direction instructs us also in this,
“Ponder and become fully joyous and practice Tanno. As long as you have complaints, Tanno cannot be practiced.” Osashizu, August 21, 1899
So, in order to practice tanno, we cannot be complainers, first of all. In fact, complaining is the exact opposite of practicing Tanno. Next,
“Without positive anticipation, you cannot practice tanno.”
Osashizu, December 22, 1897
So, in order to practice tanno, we need to positively look forward to a bright future. We must think positively. Next,
“Compare your state with that of the world and practice tanno.”
Osashizu, October 10, 1900
Well, have you ever asked yourself, how come this or that happened to me? We all have, right? Well, have you ever stopped to think about the people who have way worse problems than you? For example, the people in the recent fires up in Northern California. If you did, then you’d realize that things aren’t really so bad, and when that occurs, it opens up the possibility to practice Tanno.
Next, I’m going to talk about some of my personal challenges with Tanno.
First, this is a true story that happened to me on June 1, of this year. I was driving my 9-year-old son, Rei, and my 7-year-old daughter, Sumire, to school. Suddenly, a pick up truck, makes a left turn into my lane and destroys the front left side of my car. Luckily, Sumire and Rei seemed fine, so first of all, I thanked God, for the blessings of a big problem turned into a small one, and I thought I was practicing Tanno.
The guy says to me, let’s go around the corner to get out of traffic. So I pull around the corner only to realize that he had fled the scene.
I immediately called my wife, Hiroko, to let her know what happened and asked her to pick up the kids. In the meanwhile, I called my insurance company, AAA, about the accident, and they told me that since it was a hit and run, and I didn’t have uninsured motorist coverage, that they could not help me. I was now in a full on non-Tanno, non-Joyous Perception mode.
Just as I was about to call the police, lo’ and behold, 20 minutes later, the guy comes back to the scene of the crime. I was like “Why’d you run away, man?!” He said, in broken English, “I didn’t run away. I just went home to get my insurance card, sorry.” After exchanging insurance info, I’m back into the Tanno mode.
Long story short, AAA calls me back 2 days later, telling me that they could not verify his insurance. I was now again, “not-in-tanno” mode. After a few days, we finally discovered that AAA had called the wrong number and we confirmed his valid insurance. So I was back in the tanno, joyous perception, mode, again.
Then, after 2 weeks, now his insurance agent calls me and says that the gentleman was not answering his calls, and that if they can’t talk with their client, they cannot cover my claim.
So this time, I kept my calm, maintaining my Tanno-mode, and go to his work, and call his insurance agent while this gentleman was there, and ask him to speak to his own insurance agent for just 1 minute. He talks to his agent for 30 seconds and says, “I’m busy at work now. Call me during lunch,” and hangs up.
I just could not believe it. I was now clearly out of the Tanno-mode again. Many of my friends told me just to sue him, file a police report, and DMV report, so the guy would get arrested, or have his license revoked. I was going to do all of that, but eventually either I got too lazy, I felt sorry for him, or maybe I just fell into a bit of a Tanno-mode, and I just let it go.
So long story short. For 5 months this guy would not return any of his agent’s calls or letters. His agent told me that they would have to reject my claim soon. I was good with that, I just kind of let it go. The honest truth was that ever since the accident, I was now driving more carefully and slowly. And because of that, I was able to avoid several near-accidents of cars cutting into my lane on the freeway. And I realized that, I had this gentleman to thank for this. I guess I was in tanno, Joyous Perception, mode again.
But the story does not end here. You won’t believe this. Just 3 weeks ago, I got a call from his agent telling me that the gentleman finally called and that they were going to cover everything. It turned out my car was a “total” loss, and they were now going to pay me almost triple what I paid for my car. I just got the check 3 days ago. So long story short, Tanno pays!
Next, I’d like to talk about another true incident that happened over 40 years ago. Now what I am about to say is quite personal.
This past February, I was a lecturer at the Seminar for Successors in Vancouver. At that time, one of the lecturers brought up a hypothetical example of why a child should forgive someone for something really bad done to him. I was shocked and angered because this brought back really bad memories for me, because his example was exactly what had happened to me.
I found that the forgiveness or Tanno pill is a very bitter one and that telling someone to forgive, is much easier said than done. However, I am keenly aware of the benefits of forgiveness and Tanno, because I know, because I have lived it.
How do I know? Over 40 years ago, when I was about 13, on my way back home from Hollenbeck Junior High School, I was molested by someone in the neighborhood. Actually, let’s just say what it was. I was raped by a 19 or 20 year-old predator.
I’m just as uncomfortable talking about this now, as you may be hearing this. So, please bear with me. This past February in Vancouver, I felt that maybe somehow, Oyasama was talking to me through the lecturer—that I needed to forgive. And, I am hesitant to talk about this in front of you all now, but I think it will demonstrate how Oyasama’s teachings of Tanno truly worked for me.
At first, I was very shocked and embarrassed, then angry and bitter, and wondered why this had to happen to me. I was just a little boy… I began to wonder if it was my fault. Did I somehow invite this upon myself. I don’t remember the exact time, date, or place, but I remember clearly who it was. You don’t forget that kind of thing, no matter how hard you try.
As I got older, I realized it was not my fault, but that this guy, was a predator, and that I was his prey. I came to bear this intense grudge against this guy who lived in our neighborhood.
For most of my adult life, I was able to store away and repress these feelings of anger, hatred and grudge-bearing into a tight little box. After a while, everything seemed okay. Until one day, after many years, when I came back home for summer break from college, that this predator had the nerve to come to our SP church, and ask my dad for some work.
Apparently, this guy told my dad that he had just gotten out of jail, and he said he wanted to do an honest days work. (I later learned that he had been imprisoned for child molestation.) My dad, not knowing who this guy was, and being the compassionate man that he is, accepted his offer, and the guy starting doing work on our front apartments.
I just happened to come home from the store, and I saw this guy in the front, and I immediately recognized him.
I ran to our church in the back and asked my dad, what the heck was that guy doing here, and that he was the guy who raped me. My dad quickly explained to me why he hired the guy, and that he would tell him to leave right away.
I waited in the sanctuary, praying to Oyasama and waiting for my dad to come back. But he didn’t come back right away. I waited and I waited, but I couldn’t hold it in, not for one second longer, the pent up anger that I had felt for so many years. I looked around the yard for some weapon, something that I could use against this guy. I was no longer a little boy and I was committed to exact my revenge. Luckily, I found a 2’x4’, with nails sticking out of it on one end, that looked just like the stick he used on me.
So I went out to the front, ready to start swinging away at this guy, but when I got there, he had already left. My dad said, “Marlon, Marlon, don’t worry, he’s gone now. I told him to never come back.”
Somehow, I felt cheated, but at the same time, relieved, because I don’t know what I would have done, because I really wanted to hurt this guy for what he did to me.
It’s been a long time since then. I’m better now. And I think I’m ready to let go. I think I’m ready to forgive him now. Because he probably had something similar happen to him, that led him on his dark path. So I feel sorry for him now. He must be leading a miserable life. I later learned that he had contracted AIDS, probably in prison. And I think now, if he were to present himself to me, in a non-threatening way, I hope that I would be able to muster the courage to administer the sazuke prayer, even to him.
I hope and pray, that Oyasama would never test me in such as way, but if it did happen, as a professional Tenrikyo minister, I hope that I would have the courage to do so.
One other thing that gives me hope, is that just this past year, a young friend opened up to me about a similar experience they had gone through. And because I knew exactly what they were going through, hopefully, I was able to help that person, and this made me feel better. I found comfort and a sense of peace through this feeling of Tanno, Joyous Perception.
To this day, I cannot say that I “accept,” in the sense of “condoning,” “agreeing with,” or “validating” or somehow saying that I’m glad that it happened to me, because that would be a lie. But I can honestly say, that I have finally learned to “perceive” what had happened to me in a more joyous and positive way.
I think my story is now complete. I choose to be free from my bonds of anger, hatred and grudge-bearing, and I have Oyasama’s teachings to thank for that. I choose to walk on the path of Tanno, for I know, it is only though Tanno, Joyous Perception, that we can be assured of a path to joyousness, for generations and generations and generations to come.
In my case, I choose Tanno not only for my sake, but for the sake, of my dear dear children and their children, so that I may someday completely cut off the root of my causality. I apologize if I have made you uncomfortable, but I hope that my story may someday be of help to someone.
Let us choose to perceive things joyously, practice tanno, and realize how beautiful and precious life is, and can be, each and every day, for the rest our lives. For every day is a good day, it just depends on how we perceive it. And today is another good day. I thank you for your kind attention.
* The quotes from the Osashizu, Divine Directions,
have been translated by the author for this article