THE HEART OF KANJI: Selfish Desires


ji ko yoku

自(ji) means “own.” This character comes from the shape of a person’s nose.  己 (ko or onore) means “self.” This character represents a person who is bending down.

欲 (yoku) means “desire” and consists of two parts; the left side is the shape of a valley and the right side is a person opening his mouth to drink water because he is thirsty.

Calligraphy by Rev. Masato Kawahatsu

We as human beings have selfish desires. We need desires in order to survive. At the same time, we suffer so much because of our selfish desires. In the present world, most countries including ours try to advance economically, but in these efforts create more pollution and use up more natural resources.

I believe we don’t need to improve our material wealth. Rather, we should maintain a good balance between richness and poorness, material wealth and spiritual wealth. We should strive to maintain a good balance between all life and each other so that humankind can survive long into the future. If we seek only to satisfy our selfish desires, this human world will be unable to survive.

I was very impressed by a Christian story shown on Japanese TV (KTSF Channel 26) on Saturday a few weeks ago. When a young couple married, they were told by their minister, “You should spend your monthly income not only for yourself but also for helping others and for God’s sake as well.” Although it was a very tough thing to do, the young couple put their entire effort into accomplishing this task. And by their strong desire to help many people, the couple was able to lead a very happy life, satisfied in their spirit and in the knowledge of helping many people.

The Konko Founder said, “We should have strong desire but it is not only for your own happiness. Rather, it is for all people in the world.” If we can think about the inter-relationship between humankind and nature, man and woman, parents and children, country and country, we can maintain good balance in this world.

I was born right after the Second World War. Growing up, everybody was materially poor. We did not have any toys to play with. Yet 10 of us children could play together with only a small empty can for hours upon hours and yet we were very happy and satisfied. In contrast, my granddaughter has more than 10 toys to play with by herself, yet sometimes, she is not happy or satisfied. We can never be satisfied with material wealth alone — but we can be satisfied by a good balance between material and spiritual wealth. This society is in constant struggle to achieve this balance. People naturally seek satisfying their own desires or happiness.

However, a philosopher once said, “If half of the world’s population plus one becomes rich spiritually, this world will change towards a profoundly good direction and will maintain a good balance in every aspect of our world.”

Rev. Masato Kawahatsu is a minister at the Konko Church of San Francisco and Konko Center of South San Francisco, who teaches shodo (Japanese calligraphy) and martial arts. He also gives spiritual counseling. He can be reached at or (415) 517-5563.

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