The following is an excerpt from Omichi no joshiki [Tenrikyo Fundamentals] (pp. 69–72) by Koji Sato 佐藤浩司, assistant professor at Tenri University and instructor at Tenri Seminary. Note: This translation is a provisional one at the moment and may require further revision.
This World is a Place Where We Express Our Appreciation and Indebtedness
We tend to think that we are living by our own and that we can do almost anything due to our own strength and abilities. This is especially so during our youth.
Yet if we take a close look at all the things that happen around us and think about where all the things around us come from, starting with our daily necessities of food, clothes, and shelter, we realize that we are able to live only with the support of many people. The very things that we consider as “ours”—our body and our life itself—are also things borrowed from God.
In this path we are taught, “this world is a place where we express our appreciation and indebtedness.”
We repeat the cycle of birth and rebirth in this world and our roles change accordingly—”a parent becomes a child, a child becomes a parent”—as we repay the favors we have received to those who we are indebted to.
God the Parent taught us that 115 years is the intended lifespan of human beings. We are told that everyone will live to this age when the world of the Joyous Life is realized and will be able to extend their lives as long as they wish.
When I was in college, my professor Tomoji Takano explained this lifespan of 115 years and the concept of expressing our indebtedness in a lecture as follows:
“We humans are fully indebted to the kindness of our parents until we go to school until we are seven (as the case is in Japan). We are then indebted to our teachers during our compulsory education until age 15.
“Although we may get a job and receive a paycheck after we graduate and enter society, we usually are not at a point where our work is considered beneficial. So until age 30, we are indebted to society. By the time we turn 30, the age often regarded when we reach self-sufficiency, we marry and have children and thus give back what we received from our parents in this way. Until we reach 60, we work to give back what we received from society.
“The first 60 years of our lives is thus dedicated to being indebted to and giving back to our fellow humans.
“Yet we have not begun giving anything back to God who has provided us with the blessings that allow us to move our bodies. Therefore our lives for the next 60 years is our time for us to give back to God.”
At the time a theory that had just developed claimed the lifespan of any animal was five times the age when it stops growing, so it was estimated that the human lifespan was 120 years. Professor Takano came up with the above explanation in response where he divided the human lifespan into two 60-year halves.
Yet this makes Prof. Takano’s human lifespan 120 years instead of 115 years.
When I asked him why this was so, he answered me with a calm, collected look, “God gave us five more years as an extra bonus.”
Although this is off the subject, on top of his well-established reputation as a lecturer with a photographic memory, Prof. Takano was also known for his sense of humor. In one class he described how people from Hyogo Prefecture loved to have their products become the best in the nation and said, “That is why Higashimaru soy sauce is considered the best in Japan.”
A student then asked, “But isn’t there Kikkoman?”
To which Dr. Takano replied in a split second, “Kikkoman is the best in the world.”
I recall that it only took a moment before the classroom erupted in cheers and applause.
* * *
Now, back to my topic. Presently, the average person’s education does not usually end with nine years of compulsory education. Most, if not all, students enter high school and many go on to college. This extended postponement before entering the real world causes young people today to become more indebted to their parents and to society than ever before. With this situation at hand, people truly will not be able to give back what they received unless they live to be about 115 years old.
In any case, although we all know of the importance of giving back to our fellow human beings, we often do not think about giving back to God. We are taught that the greatest way to repay God’s blessings is to help people who are in desperate need or trouble.
Prof. Takano himself walked the path of repaying his debts by becoming a writer of books on Tenrikyo after he retired from Tenri University at the age of 60.
- Next installment in this series: Reconciliation
*Note: This post has been revised since its original publication.
I imagine this translation needs some more work, as I find phrases such as “go-onhoji” and “on-gaeshi” (both meaning compensating for or repaying favors / blessings / kindness) difficult to render into English. Some have raised objections about the word “repayment” since it implies there is a possibility we can “repay” God’s blessings to some degree (which they would maintain is impossible) so I have gone with “express our appreciation and indebtedness” for now, but am unsure if this really works.
As for the students’ cheering after Prof. Takano’s quick retort, I really don’t see what the big deal is; must be something to do with the weird sense of humor Japanese tend to have, I suppose.