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9.3 Secrecy in Religion

Every religion throughout the ages has had secrets. These secrets may be hidden in the religious scriptures or the knowledge and technique (spiritual powers and the like) of only specific individuals. The ordinary believers cannot access these secrets. There is a tendency to mystify the secrets of religious leaders.

Why does the secret play an important role in religion? I can think of two reasons. First, ensuring that special knowledge and techniques rest with only specific individuals justifies and protects the authority of the founder or priest. Second, opening the secret gradually aims to increase the believers' motivation to practice religious training. The first reason is related to sociological findings which suggest that retaining specific knowledge is associated with hierarchies in society. To explore these reasons in detail, I will take an example of Sekai Kyūsei Kyō (hereinafter called Kyūsei Kyō), a Japanese new religious organization.

Kyūsei Kyō is known as one of the Japanese new religions from which many offshoots have sprung. The religious organizations arising from Kyūsei Kyō, and those religious associations strongly affected by Kyūsei Kyō, are often referred to as the “Sekai Kyūsei Kyō lineage (kei)” organizations. Kyūsei Kyō was established by Mokichi Okada in 1935. Its core religious practice is a healing practice called Jorei (literally, purification of the spirit), which purifies the body, mind, and spirit and dissolves physical, mental, and personal problems, using the Divine Light. The missionary work of Kyūsei Kyō has expanded in the world and gained a lot of nonJapanese believers.

It can be said that Jorei contributes to its expansion because Jorei is a simple practice that is believed to have immediate healing properties (Iwai 2011). However, the practice of Jorei creates a serious dilemma. Jorei is a simple practice, and its disclosure to rank-and-file believers accelerates a phenomenon which can be called “inflation of religious power” and therefore contributes to the formation of offshoots. Originally, the founder was the only person who could practice Jorei. Later, Jorei was opened up to ordinary believers, and any believer with a pendant or charm called “Ohikari” is eligible to practice it. Knowledge or technique which is limited only to certain people can act as “capital” in a religious market. If too many believers obtain access to a secret even though it is opened only gradually, a phenomenon called the “inflation of religious power” occurs, and each secret goes down in value. Theoretically therefore, Jorei, which is very simple to practice and is open to a large number of adherents, has the ability to cause “inflation of religious power.”

As an example of the “inflation of religious power,” the disclosure of Jorei has important implications for the formation of offshoots. If training spiritual mediums and missions by using spiritual power is the target for the organization, a spiritual medium with a certain power and know-how about missions may often form an offshoot. This is clearly one of the reasons why Kyūsei Kyō has many offshoots. Jorei is an easy-to-imitate practice, allowing a member to become independent once they have obtained its know-how.

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