58 Selected Writings 6: Words that Benefit Others

The following is a translation of “Hito o ikasu kotoba no tsukai-kata” by Koichiro Iwai from Ohanashi goju hassen, published in 2004 in Japanese by the Tenrikyo Young Men’s Association. Translation originally posted at Tenrikyo Forum on March 12, 2007.

Words that Benefit Others

by Koichiro Iwai

We breathe without a moment’s rest. Let me rephrase that: God the Parent enables us to breathe. The breath that we breathe in and out is the essence of our life.

However, there are two different ways in which we can use the breath that we exhale. First, we can cool tea that would otherwise be too hot for us to drink. We can also warm our hands on a cold morning by breathing on them. Thus our breath has the power to cool and the power to warm. It is indeed remarkable.

But such powers are not limited to our breath. The words we speak  — often without much thought behind them — have the potential to benefit or damage a person’s destiny.

For instance, imagine you are at work and the human resources director, who is making a background check, approaches you to ask about the reputation of a particular neighbor of yours who she is considering to hire. In such a case, the way you phrase your answer makes a huge difference in the impression you give of the person in question.

By answering, “He’s a good worker, but he drinks a lot,” may cause the HR director to be concerned that the man is bound to cause a situation with his fondness for drinking.

But what if you happened to switch the order of the two phrases saying, “He drinks a lot, but does a solid job”? In such a case, the HR director may think: “If we put this young man in sales, then his being able to handle his liquor will give him an advantage. He appears to be quite reliable, so we should give him the position.”

The first answer possibly would discourage the HR director to make the hire, but even if it does, it still gives a bad impression. To damage the man’s reputation in such a way is akin to killing him.

The second answer, on the other hand, is a commendable answer that benefits the person. When we praise others for their benefit, we also sow seeds of happiness for ourselves as well. I believe that we abide with the intention of God the Parent when we choose our words in a way that benefits others.

On the author

Koichiro Iwai 岩井孝一郎 (1902–1988): Promoted to Honbu-in (senior official of Church Headquarters) in 1978. Member of Publication Propagation (Bunsho Fukyo) Committee. Head of the Lecture Department of Tenrikyo Yoboku Association.


Ah, easily the most controversial of the nine translations I’ve done from this publication so far.

Drinking is such an element of Japanese social life that I never really thought twice about how it could raise “red flags” among some of the American contingent. I often underestimate the negative stigma drinking has in the United States; there was an attempt to ban the sale of alcohol nationwide after all, without lasting success. But this stigma surrounding drinking especially seems to have been heightened in the last three or four decades through the efforts of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and overenthusiastic Protestant denominations.

Yet I often wonder if accidents and deaths from drunken driving incidents are exacerbated because of fast cars and poorly-conceived road systems. Surely, those who drink themselves to the point where their decision-making becomes impaired need to be held accountable, but what about fast-moving vehicle manufacturers and planners of poor roads? Shouldn’t they shoulder part of the blame as well?

Yikes! Excuse me for going on another weird tangent.

I should also mention that this entry is quite representative of Tenrikyo writing: the sometimes frustrating manner how the writer touches upon religious assumptions that are not explicitly articulated. Here, specifically, the writer makes a cognitive connection between the act/blessing of breathing and speaking (which both fall under the same providential aspect of Kashikone-no-Mikoto according to Tenrikyo cosmology; click here for a description of these “ten aspects”). To a Tenrikyo follower, the connection is more or less obvious, but less so to those who are not familiar with Tenrikyo metaphysics.

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