Merit That Cannot Be Seen By the Eye

The following is an excerpt from Omichi no joshiki [Tenrikyo Fundamentals] (pp. 121–122) by Koji Sato, professor at Tenri University and instructor at Tenri Seminary. Note: This translation is a provisional one at the moment and may require further revision.

Merit That Cannot Be Seen By the Eye

Once, Oyasama asked Koiso Yamanaka:

“Do you wish to have merit that can be seen by the eye? Or do you wish to have merit that cannot be seen by the eye? Which do you wish to have?”

Koiso answered, “Anything with physical form can be lost or stolen. So I would prefer to have merit that cannot be seen by the eye.”

Anecdotes of Oyasama 63, “Merit That Is Not To Be Seen”

Merit (toku) is essentially something that is not visible to the eye. However, we can know whether it is present or not by virtue of observable phenomena. There are instances when merit comes in visible form such as money or other tangible objects.

Instead of such merit that can be seen by the eye, Koiso Yamanaka expressed a desire to have merit that cannot be seen by the eye. One can interpret this as referring to the merit that allows matters to turn out the way we planned or expected. In other words, one can imagine this to refer to the merit that allows us to be saved upon hearing God’s teachings.

The phrase “accumulate merit behind the scenes” (in-toku o tsumu) is also said in society at large1, but we cannot confirm how much merit we have accumulated with our eyes. At times this causes people to become uneasy.

When Umekichi Umezaki, a follower living in Pusan, fell ill and inquired for Divine Directions, he received the following reply:

When it comes to human beings, if you think of this lifetime alone, there is nothing to count on. You will think to yourself, “I have given my all, but what have I accomplished?” But that is not the case. The truth of your dedication shall settle as truth for the future and for eternity. There is something from all your efforts each day which I have accepted.

Osashizu, January 12, 1906

God then gave the following Direction to the person who was to deliver the above message to Umekichi:

The single truth that you have dedicated, your sincere efforts, merit behind the scenes, merit behind the scenes. Always remember this. Convey this instruction to others as well.


This Divine Direction is saying that God will accept the mind of a person who has dedicated and contributed for the sake of the path and will supply these efforts as merit for him or her not for just one lifetime, but for all of eternity. I would like to encourage all of us to put our minds at ease and accumulate merit that is unseen by the eye each day.

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


The translation of this entry proved to be a little tricky, especially the Divine Directions. As I mention above, this is only a provisional translation for now. I wish this entry was written so that its intended message was a little clearer, but it is possible that Sato sensei intentionally wrote it the way he did so that it isn’t clear in the first place? Japanese can be so frustratingly vague… an inherent quality of the language that too many writers take advantage of. Or, more likely, I’m having trouble understanding the message he is trying to get across.


  1. If there anyone out there who has ever heard a non-Tenrikyo person say the phrase “in-toku o tsumu” (accumulate merit behind the scenes/accumulate unseen merit), let me know. I’d be damned if this wasn’t a Tenrikyo-only expression if there ever was one.