The teaching of “a thing lent, a thing borrowed” might be the most important of Tenrikyo teachings. I believe mere knowledge of this teaching does not suffice. What happens to be needed is a complete reassessment of what this particular teaching means and how it is to be applied to our spiritual life.
While growing up in Honolulu, my overall impression of how most followers handled and presented this teaching was that they would repeat the phrase “the body is a thing lent, a thing borrowed” like a mindless mantra. I don’t ever recall anyone who delved into it and spoke about its profound implications. Such is my experience as I attended Sunday school at the Mission Headquarters of Hawaii (Dendocho).
Of course, I could be wrong on this. Someone who has the patience to scour the back issues of Makoto/Origins, Hawaii Dendocho’s newsletter, and check every monthly service sermon on record during my lifetime may find evidence to the contrary. Still, I would expect that the topic of a thing lent, a thing borrowed, even when broached in these sermons, will not approach the comprehensive treatment I plan to present here.
I believe Kashimono-Karimono is one of the most important of Tenrikyo’s teachings, if not the most important one of all.
In the Ofudesaki, we read:
So long as you remain unknowing that the body is a thing borrowed, you can understand nothing at all.
Most Tenrikyo literature regurgitates the discourse that the general tendency is to consider the body as something that belongs to each individual. Even though our ownership over our belongings is precarious, being that they can pass in and out of our possession, because the body is the means through which we experience the world and stays with us from birth to death, surely our body must be something we can claim ownership of. This discourse then goes on to state that according to Oyasama’s teaching, this assumption, while being a reasonable conclusion for anyone to come to, is ultimately not true. Oyasama teaches that the body is something we borrow from Cosmic Space-Time, a thing lent to us by Cosmic Space-Time.
There is nothing inherently wrong with this discourse. Yet it must be acknowledged it is a fairly modern notion that the body belongs to the individual. When Oyasama first began teaching that the body was something lent by Cosmic Space-Time, the idea that the body was something people received from their biological parents was probably more prevalent. The notion that the body is something someone receives from their biological parents finds its ultimate expression in the argument that it is only proper for an individual to express their indebtedness by filial devotion, a most Confucian value if there ever was one.
Another common idea held during Oyasama’s time considered the individual’s body as something that belonged to their feudal lord (or to the nation as a whole). Out of this particular belief emerges the expectation for each individual to fulfill their role as a dutiful vassal or citizen by contributing to their feudal realm or nation.
When we take into consideration the prevalence of such ideas, I feel that many first-generation followers must have been deeply struck at the novelty of Oyasama’s teaching of a thing lent, thing borrowed.
Another common form of discourse “a thing lent, a thing borrowed” (Japanese: Kashimono-Karimono) usually takes is its relationship with the explanation of what hinokishin is.
By scanning the terms Kashimono and Karimono in the Ofudesaki, one can come to the following conclusions about this teaching:
- It is a natural outgrowth of the notion that the Cosmos is the body of Oyagami (3:40–1 & 135–7)
- It has a close relationship with the notion that illness is a form of cosmic guidance. (3:137–9)
- It has a close relationship with the notion that Kami uses illness to assemble timber for the joyous reconstruction (3:126–31)
- It has a close relationship with the notion there is no high and low, all human beings are equal (3:125–6; 13:46–7) “we are all equally borrowers of things lent by Oyagami.”
- Knowing it will help eliminate greed (6:120–1), which leads to the elimination of everything fearful and dangerous (122)
- It has a close relationship with the notion that all human beings are siblings and (13:43–47), knowing this will cut off the root of rebellion, end all wars (13:49–50)
- It has a close relationship with the notion that all human beings are children of [Cosmic Space-and-Time] (13:79)
Kashimono-Karimono also has the following implications:
- As a thing lent (rented), the body ultimately is to be returned. This subsumes the Buddhist notion of impermanence. Impermanence is not to be considered as a negative teaching, but a positive one. It helps focus the mind to make best of the present. Even if the present is filled with suffering, the notion of impermanence can provide courage in that the current unfavorable conditions will not last forever.
- This + the Moto no ri (reason [Cosmic Space-and-Time] created humanity was to see our Joyous Play) = basis of morality, ethical action.
- Illness is one way Kami teaches us so that we can acknowledge with our very being the body is something lent to us, something we borrow.
- The teaching of a thing lent, thing borrowed is deeply related to verse 3:40/135. That is, the physical world, the entire Cosmos is the body of Oyagami. Our bodies too, are contained in and part of the Cosmos. In this sense, our bodies are loan to us from the Cosmos. This is a notion that is supported by our present scientific knowledge. It is held that the solar system we live in formed as a result of a supernova. Our bodies are composed of atoms that are remnants of an exploding star, compelling Joni Mitchell to sing “We are stardust, we are golden.” We live renewing our atoms through consuming other life forms. When our lives are over, the atoms that compose our body return to the Earth and the Cosmos.
- If our body is something borrowed, how much more everything else is something borrowed or on loan to us! This idea ultimately leads us to reassess the importance of environmental stewardship if we consider ourselves adherents of Oyasama’s teachings.
- Taking care of the physical body by watching what one eats and exercises amounts to sacred action.
- Athletes, the medical profession, food industries must reassess how they go about the way they conduct their business.