Making Footprints Not Blueprints

S07 #11 - Beyond the binary of supply and demand — bringing citizens, business and industry together through a deep, but simple, creative, free spirituality - A thought for the day

December 09, 2023 Andrew James Brown/Caute Season 7 Episode 11
Making Footprints Not Blueprints
S07 #11 - Beyond the binary of supply and demand — bringing citizens, business and industry together through a deep, but simple, creative, free spirituality - A thought for the day
Show Notes Transcript

The full text of this podcast can be found in the transcript of this edition or at the following link:

Please feel to post any comments you have about this episode there.

The Cambridge Unitarian Church's Sunday Service of Mindful Meditation can be found at this link:
"New Heaven", written by Andrew J. Brown and played by Chris Ingham (piano), Paul Higgs (trumpet), Russ Morgan (drums) and Andrew J. Brown (double bass) 

Thanks for listening. Just to note that all the texts of these podcasts are available on my blog. You'll also find there a brief biography, info about my career as a musician, & some photography. Feel free to drop by & say hello. Email: caute.brown[at]

A short thought for the day” offered to the Cambridge Unitarian Church as part of the Sunday Service of Mindful Meditation


In last week’s thought for the day, called “Embracing climate adaptation positives in our settings in good company,” I suggested that, as a creative, free-spiritual community, we had a role to play, not on the supply-side of the equation — i.e. providing the big, technical solutions connected with things like renewables, carbon storage, and hydrogen etc. — but on the demand-side, where we can certainly find modest ways to communicate to others, including local and national government, businesses and industries, our willingness to restrain our own energy use; a willingness I further located in our faith in the trinity of self, neighbour, and cooperative society, and where the cooperative society extends to an affirmation of the unity of life and nature, which further unites us with all things in the universe. 

Should you wish, you can read/hear that piece again on my blog or podcast. But, what you won’t find in either was my ad hoc remark made on the day that I was only using the binary “demand and supply-side” term, because that was the terminology used by the university project to which I was referring, and with which we might be involved as what they call “a faith-partner.” However, as I noted at the time, I strongly feel there are ways to move beyond this binary term and to see that so-called demand and supply sides are, in truth, much more closely intertwined, so much so that they are effectively two words for the same thing, namely, life itself. 

I said nothing else about this last week, but the example I had in mind was that offered up by Tenkō-san (Tenko Nishida 1872-1968) who, in 1928, founded the utopian, Ittōen (一灯園) spiritual community in the Yamashina district of Kyoto.Ittōen simply means “Garden of One Light” and it’s connected to our own Unitarian tradition because the Japanese Yuniterian (sic), Imaoka Shin’ichirō-sensi was first a follower of, and then friend and fellow-traveller with, Tenko-san. And, along with Imaoka-sensei’s own creative, free-spritual community in Tokyo, Kiitsu Kyōkai, Tenkō-san’s Ittōen community was, and remains, a member of the International Association for Religious Freedom which, during the 1960s had our own minister here in Cambridge, H. Stewart Carter, as its President. But, before I get to the specific example I had in mind last week, I think it’s important firstly to set the scene for its occurrence.

In the late 1880s, Tenko-san, left his family’s successful business and, aged 20, went with 10 families to an uncultivated part of Hokkaido to begin farming. After eight years of extremely hard work, he increasingly found himself caught between the demands of the rich landowners who had lent him the money for the project and the farmers with whom he worked on a daily basis. His inability satisfactorily to resolve this conflict precipitated in him a major spiritual crisis and, after resigning his position, he returned to Tokyo profoundly to reflect on this. One of the books which helped him begin to resolve his most pressing questions was Leo Tolstoy’s book, “My Religion” which he read over three days whilst fasting in a hotel room. One of Tolstoy’s major themes in that book was that, if one wanted truly to live, it was vital that one should follow the example of the human Jesus and utterly let go of self-attachment; in other words, one must let the self die. It was with this idea in mind, along with associated profound Buddhist and Shinto influences, that Tenko-san left the hotel and threw himself into the hands of the Light (灯, tō) — his preferred name for divinity, God or Buddha-nature. And so he set out on a life of wandering service, scrubbing and sweeping floors, chopping wood, and cleaning toilets. And by the 1920s, this way of living made him famous all over Japan. Declining all but the barest minimum offers of food and shelter, service became the way he connected with others and for him, this was enlightenment. Over the next few years, Tenko-san attracted many followers which, in turn, eventually allowed for the creation of the utopian, free spiritual community, Ittōen.

The whole story of Tenko-san, Ittōen, and it’s relationship to the Japanese Yuniterian and wider, international Unitarian tradition, is well worth following-up and, personally, I continue to find it inspirational. Fortunately, copies of the English version of his book, called either “New Road to Ancient Truth” or “Life of Ittōen” can still be found.

So, now, with the basic scene set, I can tell you the example I had in mind that I think helps move us beyond the binary “supply-demand” idea.

In the midst of Tenkō-san’s spiritual crisis, in the early morning of April 29, 1904, when he was 32 years old, Tenkō-san found himself, hungry, cold and without any proper shelter, and close to utter despair, when he tells us, he heard a baby crying nearby. And when the baby suddenly stopped crying, a scene of the baby drinking its mother’s milk in her arms came to his mind, which moved him deeply. He wrote:

“A sudden thought arose, How if I cried like a baby? The baby is crying and its mother’s breast must be full of milk. Perhaps she is too busy to come to the baby. If the baby did not cry and in consequence starved to death, how great would be the mother’s grief. Crying must be essential. To suck the mother’s breast is not to struggle for existence, or to overcome others or to battle against them. It makes both mother and baby happy. There is no milk before the baby is born. It is only by its birth that milk arises. The baby does not strive to gain the milk, nor does the mother strive to provide it. Both are nourished by the grace of nature” (“New Road to Ancient Truth,” p. 53)

I hope you can immediately see that in this real-life example, it is a profound misrepresentation of what was going on here to reduce it  to talk about separate “supply and demand-sides.” What is occurring here is simply life in all its creative, interpenetrating, intra-active fullness. Tenkō-san and Ittōen came to see “that mother and child are the provider and recipient of nourishment, which are complimentary roles.  Far from being in conflict, the two of them are mutually fulfilled and contented, and fusing into one, in peace. While their positions are different, at two opposite sides of a process (an interdependent relationship), they are fundamentally in harmony” (from the current Ittōen website). Drawing on this insight, Imaoka-sensei later pointed out that,

“According to Tenkō-san, all human relationships must be like that between a loving mother and her baby. Responding to the baby’s need for milk is also the mother’s need. Not responding to the baby’s demand is physically and mentally painful for the mother. In other words, the truth lies in the negation of selfishness and the competition for survival. Politics, economics, and culture must all be based on this principle. Tenkō-san did not gain this enlightenment through the teachings of saints and sages but through the failure of his business” (“Unforgettable Memories of Respected Teachers and Friends” published in “Jiyū Shūkyō” [Free Religion 自由宗教], 1974).

And today, in the midst of the frightening climate emergency and the massive break-down of trust between citizens and big-business and industry in general, but particularly with the oil industry, I think that in this touching timeless incident from 120 years ago, we see something that I think is truly essential for us also to see again today: namely, that we, as a creative, free-spiritual community need to play our part in crying out in the wilderness for the need to bring back together that which has been broken utterly asunder by the neoliberal project, namely the connection that can, indeed, should, exist between a deep spiritual practice and business and industry. We need to find ways to get into our own heads and hearts, those of our children and neighbours, and those of our business and industrial leaders, not to mention our politicians, a profound sense that our relationships with each other must become again like that between a loving mother and her baby, where each of them naturally allows the life of both to flourish creatively, sustainably and beautifully.

And now, having said all this, I think it’s perhaps most appropriate to end this piece with the five, short prayers said every day at Ittōen which help us understand, and perhaps even to think about incorporating into our own, the faith that underlies their own attempt to bring spirituality, business and industry back together.


An interesting paper by Michel Mohr which looks at the relationship between Imaoka-sensei and Tenkō-san can be found at the following link:

“The Missing Link between Meiji Universalism and Postwar Pacifism, and What It Means for the Future”