Work (Hataraki)

The following is an excerpt from Omichi no joshiki [Tenrikyo Fundamentals] (pp. 126–129) 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.


There are times when we may ask ourselves as we endure a long commute and toil each day, “What on earth am I working for?” Such a question comes close to home and ranks equal to other fundamental questions such as, “What is the meaning of life?”

Setting aside those who consider their present job as their calling and work each day with enthusiasm, it is possible that it may not be unreasonable for a person who works to provide for their families and make ends meet to consider their occupation as a source of drudgery.

In contrast to this, in Judeo-Christian tradition, labor is fundamentally seen as God’s punishment to humanity. Consequently, there emerged the idea that there was one holy day (or holiday) each week where one did not have to work and that one could retire once reaching a certain age.

Granted, the sociologist Max Weber once stated that the Protestant idea that a person’s vocation was provided by God as the means toward his or her salvation was an important factor that influenced the emergence of capitalist societies. Though many white collar workers may consciously accept their profession as their sacred calling, it is said this does not to apply blue collar workers who toil in sweat and get blisters on their hands.

In Japan, work was seen as something positive from days of old and the importance of hard work was frequently brought up in myths and popular tales. There is the Zen teaching, “A day without work is a day without food.”

This, together with the Confucian ethics that were propagated through Shingaku or the “Heart-Learning” movement of the Edo period (1600–1867) helped people accept the importance of labor as being the source of their bread and butter.

In such an age, Oyasama said, “Human beings were born in this world to work.” She also taught, “To work (hataraku) is make those close to you comfortable; work is called hataraku for this reason (hata: those nearby, raku: comfortable).”

Oyasama taught that we are not to work for ourselves, but for the sake of others. She also left us with the following directions:

“If all the people of the world help one another, there will be no worry or danger for the future. There are families with plenty of work to be done but with no one to do the work, and there are families with plenty of people to do the work but with no work to be done.

“When apprenticed, think of all the work as your own instead of as your master’s, and work faithfully whether being watched or not. For example, in the fall, if you notice that it is a cloudy day, take care of the straw mats and any other things as though they were your own and be sure to put them away.

“Because you work faithfully and help others in various ways, in the fall people will make new kimono to give to you and do other good things for you. When it reaches this stage it will be advantageous for both. If you are going to do work, do it as faithfully as you would do your own, whether being watched or not. Then people will say, “That person is considerate, so I will hire him.” When you become such a person, there will be plenty of work for you.

“The people living in this Residence work as though all the work here were their own; therefore, night and day each of them is thinking, “What is there to be done? What can I do next?” They do the work thinking that it is their own work; therefore, it becomes their own. If you work with the thought, “This is my work; this is my home,” then it will become your home. If you work only when you are being watched and become idle when not being watched, then soon you will not be able to stay here as if it were your home.”

Anecdotes of Oyasama 197, “Hands That Work”

Oyasama taught us that to work is to respect and help our fellow human beings. Also, Oyasama said the following about how we are to work for the sake others,

“Work on top of work, saying to yourself, “Just a little more, just a little bit more”; this is not greed, it is work that comes from true sincerity.”

Anecdotes of Oyasama 111, “Being Awakened In the Morning”

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


I must take issue here with Sato sensei’s understanding of the Judeo-Christian practice of taking a day off each week. My understanding is that the Sabbath (or Shabbat) was a day you are not allowed to work since it was the day when the Lord took rest after creating the world in seven days.

It is regarded as an important law in Judaism. I remember when Joe Lieberman was the vice presidential candidate in 2000, the fact that he didn’t even drive on the Sabbath became a topic of discussion. In fact, this issue of “working” on the Sabbath incites debate even today among theologians on whether or not Jewish doctors are allowed to break the regulation of working on the Sabbath in order to help Gentiles or non-Jews.