A Thing Lent, A Thing Borrowed

The following is an exerpt from Omichi no joshiki [Tenrikyo Fundamentals] (pp. 27–32) by Koji Sato (佐藤浩司), assistant professor at Tenri University and instructor at Tenri Seminary. Note: This translation is tentative and may require further revision.

A Thing Lent, A Thing Borrowed

We often live our lives without thinking twice about our senses of sight, smell, hearing, taste, and ability to speak. Our blood transports the oxygen we breathe to the cells that make up our bones, tendons, and muscles. Our bodies are sustained because our cells are filled with moisture and work to join and support one another. Although we are unconscious and therefore not at all responsible for this process, we nevertheless believe that our bodies belong to us.

Neither are we any more responsible for everything else that exists—animals, plants, metals such as gold, silver, or iron, the air, mountains, forests, rivers, streams, the weather, or the movement of the heavenly bodies. Yet we believe that we are free to use all that we find in the natural world at our discretion.

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The fundamental teaching in Tenrikyo maintains that life is possible because of God’s supervision and that everything in this universe belongs to God. We are alive because we are borrowing something that is sustained by God’s workings. Oyasama wrote of this fundamental truth in the Ofudesaki as follows:

This world is the body of God. Ponder this in all matters.

3:40, 135

All human bodies are things lent by God. With what thought are you using them?


Then, if the body belongs to God, we may wonder: Is there nothing that we can call our own? To this, God says:

With human beings: the body is a thing lent by God, a thing borrowed. The mind alone is yours.

Osashizu, June 1, 1889

The core of human existence and experience is the mind. Thus we are taught that only the mind is ours and free for us to use. Everything that happens around us all are related to the ways which each of us use our minds.

So long as you remain unknowing that the body is a thing borrowed, you can understand nothing at all.

Ofudesaki 3:137

The social ills of the world such as gastronomic excesses of overeating and overdrinking, underage prostitution, the ease of terminating a pregnancy, violent assault, and murder ultimately originate from the state of mind that distinguishes one’s body and everything around oneself as either “mine” or “theirs.” That all the above phenomena are part of the human condition reveals that people are yet to understand the truth of “a thing lent, a thing borrowed.” The extent of how much we have incorporated the path in our lives solely depends on the extent to which we have settled the teaching of “a thing lent, a thing borrowed” in our minds.

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Uhei Murata 村田卯平 was a quiet and considerate man who joined the faith after he was saved from illness at the age of 19. Because he wished to deepen his understanding of the teachings, he approached the famed missionary Hyoshiro Kami 加見兵四郎 (who later founded Tokai Grand Church 天理教東海大教会) for further instruction. Uhei subsequently traveled seven kilometers to see Hyoshiro every night after he completed his farming work for the day.

Hyoshiro would always talk on the doctrine of “a thing lent, a thing borrowed.” Uhei did not seem to mind and went enthusiastically each day to listen to Hyoshiro’s talks.

Even so, at one point, Uhei said, “I understand your talk quite well, so please allow me to begin salvation work.”

To this, Hyoshiro replied, “No, you still haven’t understood it yet” and would not give his consent.

Uhei continued to go to Hyoshiro for instruction, whose talk continued to be that of “a thing lent, a thing borrowed.” Uhei asked for Hyoshiro’s consent to engage in salvation work every time but the response was still the same.

Then one day, Uhei determined himself and said, “I understand the teaching of a thing lent, a thing borrowed very well. So, please allow me to do salvation work.”

Hyoshiro then gave his consent immediately, saying, “I see. You say you understand it well. If so, then you can go.”

In his elation, Uhei hastily bid his adieu and raced home. On his way he realized he forgot his tobacco pouch and hurried back to Hyoshiro’s home.

When he got there he asked, “Excuse me, have you seen my tobacco pouch?”

Hyoshiro turned to him and quietly said, “Uhei-san, it appears that you still do not understand…”

It is said that, at that very moment Uhei gasped and awakened to the truth of “a thing lent, a thing borrowed.” The episode has the quality of a Zen moment. But as Hyoshiro pointed out, if the reasoning behind the teaching of “a thing lent, a thing borrowed” were truly settled in the mind, one would no longer utter words such “my” or “mine.”

Uhei Murata would later become the second head minister of Meiwa Grand Church 明和大教会.

This is a story I heard from the late Tomoji Takano 高野友治, professor emeritus of Tenri University.

*Note: This post has been revised since its original publication.