Blogging Anecdotes of Oyasama 63

63. Merit That Is Not to Be Seen

Once Oyasama asked Koiso Yamanaka:

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

Koiso replied, “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, pp. 55–56

Translation of “Sawa’s note “

“[Based on] the oral account of Koei Yamada (daughter of Koiso) in 1964.”

My take

What I personally find most striking about this particular account has little to do with the content itself, which may come across like a generic description of a wise master having a philosophical discussion with his disciple. The most intriguing part to me is that this is a discussion being exchanged by two women. Although I’m not well-versed in all the scriptures of major religious traditions, I would imagine that one would have to dig furiously through their writings to discover such a philosophical exchange between members of the fairer sex.

It is possible that the expansive canon of Hinduism contains such exchanges. Maybe some took place between Mary Baker Eddy and one of her female disciples. Helena Blavatsky is another potential candidate. But I get the feeling the odds of finding anything similar is likely to decrease exponentially the further one goes in the past. (This is not an issue of whether or not such exchanges took place at all, but rather that the likelihood of finding one that was recorded for posterity would presumably be slimmer in the past.)

Insight from Hideo Nakajima sensei

Hideo Nakajima, a well-established Tenrikyo theologian who has cut his teeth with studies on the Osashizu (which is easily the most difficult of the Scriptures), happens to have written an article discussing this very selection from Anecdotes of Oyasama. It can be argued that he is very likely the best man for the task, since he notes that “toku” (glossed as “merit” in Anecdotes 63 above and also frequently translated as “virtue”) only appears Osashizu; the term neither appears in the Ofudesaki nor the Mikagura-uta.1

To pick up the most illuminating portions of his article, in addition to “toku,” he discusses religious terms such as “truth” (ri)“efficacy” (kōno), and “seed(s)” (tane). After making a case that these four terms overlap in meaning to some degree, he writes, “I believe that instructions using the word ‘toku,’ and the related terms brought up earlier — ‘ri,’ ‘kōno,’ and ‘tane‘ — mainly signify those dealing with the steps toward spiritual growth (seijin) and the process of working for this goal.”2

Further, Nakajima sensei seems to imply that although the use of the word toku in Tenrikyo may appear to be somewhat different from its general usage, there is nevertheless an ample amount of overlap between the two usages.

To compare, he summarizes general usage of “toku” as follows: “(a set of) moral/ethical ideals or a distinguished predisposition/capacity one has learned or acquired that potentially improves the welfare of society” in addition to the “wealth and assets” gained from the promotion of such activity.3

Nakajima sensei then summarizes the usage of the same term in the religious life of Tenrikyo adherents as, “the capacity/quality one has cultivated by seeking out, responding to, and making efforts to bring God’s single-hearted intention regarding (world) salvation into reality.” He then adds that a person’s riches, assets, and wealth can be considered a form of God’s protection, suggesting this is what is meant by the phrase “merit that is to be seen by the eye.”4

Insight from Yoshinobu Chakitani sensei

Yoshinobu Chakitani sensei, a prison chaplain at Kumamoto Keimusho and head minister of Shodai Bunkyokai, covers similar territory when he writes as follows:

Merit (toku) is essentially something that cannot be seen by the eye. Although it is fine to interpret “merit that is to be seen by the eye” simply as the things we see before us or as money, Oyasama does not ask the question: “Do you wish to have ‘something’ (mono) that is to be seen by the eye? Or do you wish to have merit that is not to be seen by the eye? Which do you wish to have?” She purposely says “merit that is to be seen by the eye.”

Thus, in this case, I must wonder if these words mean “merit that (allows one to acquire things) that are to be seen by the eye”?

Now then, when it comes to this, one’s mind starts to waver. Anyone would hope for his or her situation to turn out splendidly. I imagine everyone wants to have things that are to be seen by the eye. . . .

Our situation turns out splendidly when we have faith. I have the feeling that to deny this somehow amounts to nullifying the mindset of the Parent that loves humanity to the point of expressing, “You will not have any hardships, even if you wish to undergo hardships” (Anecdotes of Oyasama 36: Firm Resolution). We are also told: “You may worry about falling short of needs when you go along the divine path. You need not worry about anything” (Anecdotes of Oyasama 15: These Seeds).5

Although I risk going overboard here, I quote Chakitani sensei at length one more time before I conclude:

Truth be told, there are many important things around us which we cannot see. Can we see air? Can we see electricity? Can we see radio waves? Contrary to our expectations, our lives are surrounded by plentiful things that we cannot see.

It is often said that our encounters with others in life depends on fortune and fate. Both “fortune” and “faith” are things that cannot be seen by the eye. Further, though we cannot see the minds of others, to neglect this would certainly invite misfortune upon ourselves….

However, when we think about it, we realize all the merit that we can see with the eye is supported by merit we cannot see with the eye. When we see a large tree standing in front of us, it is because it is being supported by its roots, which cannot be seen with the eye….

I must wonder if “Do you wish to have merit that is to be seen by the eye? Or do you wish to have merit that is not to be seen by the eye?”6 is not meant to be an either-or question. This is my conclusion. I feel that it is a question that is really asking: “Can you see the true essence of God’s protection?”

Who knows how many people despair over their lives because fortune, fate, or their encounters with others do not allow things to unfold in the way they wish? Of all the forms of protection God provides for us, “merit that is not to be seen by the eye” takes first precedence. “Merit that is to be seen by the eye” comes alive precisely because we have “merit that is not to be seen by the eye” to support it. And, “merit that is to be seen by the eye” that is not supported by “merit that is not to be seen by the eye” is like a plant without roots. Without it, we risk losing what we have or having it stolen.7


Further reading


  1. Nakajima 2000, p. 173.
  2. ibid, p. 185.
  3. ibid, p. 179.
  4. ibid.
  5. Chakitani 2009, pp. 62–63).  Nakajima sensei actually closes his article by presenting Anecdotes 15 in its entirety.
  6. Another Tenrikyo publication comments on this very quote attributed to Oyasama as follows: “Oyasama’s question reveals an intimate awareness of the innermost desires of human beings: ‘I want that object. I want money. I want status.’  In the Ofudesaki, we read that human beings are shallow and ‘talk only about things already visible’ (3:115)” (Tenrikyō Dōyūsha 1995, p. 116.)
  7. Chakitani 2009, pp. 62–63.