Kneeling with their eyes closed inside an Irvine office complex, disciples of an obscure Japanese sect wait for the Holy Master--a man named Katsutoshi Sekiguchi, spiritual leader of the Divine Light Organization.
Also known as Sekai Mahikari Bunmei Kyoda, the organization is a 40-year-old offshoot of Shintoism. The goal of the group is to save the world from destruction by helping Su-God--the creator--purify the Earth with prayer.
The faith, one of many new religions that developed in post-World War II Japan, was founded by Yoshikazu Okada, a former Tokyo businessman who had a revelation in 1959. Worldwide, the religion claims 50,000 members, including 100 in Orange County.
Among local members attending the recent ceremony at the organization's Irvine sanctuary--or dojo--was Betty Menghi, a landscape contractor who has been involved in Divine Light for six years and keeps coming back because of the nonjudgmental atmosphere.
"In the Catholic Church, if you do this or do that, then you're not going to heaven," said Menghi, 49, of Mission Viejo. "They don't teach you here what's good or bad. They just let you be."
A distinguishing characteristic of the organization is a special kind of prayer with outstretched hands that adherents say transfers energy and healing from one person to another. Formally called Maihikari-no-waza, the ritual also is called "giving okiyome."
Celebrants perform the ritual in pairs, pointing outstretched palms to 27 points--like the temple or the heart--on their partner's body. They liken the process to spiritual acupuncture.
Devotees feel empowered to lift their hands and heal others--including plants and animals--through the ritual. Although the Holy Master is considered to be on a higher spiritual level, Divine Light members applaud the democracy of the organization's spiritual power. Brochures proclaim, "Anyone Can Perform a Miracle!"
"Ordinary people can purify souls," said Patrick Mu. "You may not feel it in the beginning, but you will."
Many of the Orange County branch are of Japanese descent. The organization depends on donations and a $110 fee charged for three-day seminars in how to give and receive okiyome--a requirement to become a "Spiritual Volunteer" in the organization. Seminars also are offered for intermediate and advanced groups.
Information about the organization is available by calling (949) 453-1406.
Believers wear a talisman around their necks called an omitama that has a tiny scroll tucked inside bearing a spiral-shaped diagram charting "Su-God's Great Plan and Process of Human Evolution."
To hone their skills, members meet once a month for a ceremony called Matsuri and for special occasions--like the special visit from Sekiguchi, which brought followers from as far away as Riverside and Ventura counties.
While believers sat prostrate and clapped and bowed, the Holy Master spoke in Japanese and then met with devotees in a small room crammed with fruit plates and fresh flowers.
People claim that many miracles have indeed happened after okiyome in the small Irvine sanctuary.
"This is real," said Mu, 35, a restaurant manager who said his sinus problems disappeared since he started practicing okiyome. He said he's also healed his father's arthritis. A former Buddhist, Mu says he has high hopes for the message of the Divine Light to spread.
"This will become a major world religion," he said. "We're small now, but we're growing."
Part of the incentive to graduate from a higher seminar is to receive a bigger pendant to "reflect more energy" while performing okiyome.
Before entering the dojo, members shed their shoes and are required to wash their hands with special soap labeled either "God" or "Omitama" in a small metal sink. The former is to be used before giving okiyome and the latter before handling the necklaces.
Many of okiyome practitioners say the Divine Light ceremony is merely an addition to their spiritual life, not a substitute for a more traditional faith.
Although devoted to the Divine Light practice of okiyome, Mike Harrison said he's not going to give up his Christianity. "I still believe in Jesus," said Harrison, 49, of Irvine.
Pressure from family and friends to abandon his prayers at the Divine Light dojo has been a constant.
"Some people think this is witchcraft," said Harrison, a physicist. "But when Jesus came to perform miracles, they thought he was crazy too."
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