THE HEART OF KANJI: Our lives are borrowed from the universe


Inochi wa tenchi no karimono. calligraphy by Rev. Masato Kawahatsu

命 (Inochi) means “life.” The top lines represent a person and the lines below 叩 symbolize “beat.” All together, our human life is sustained by the beating of one’s heart.

天 (Ten) means ”heaven.” The top line represents the sky and the strokes below represent a big person.

Inochi wa tenchi no karimono. calligraphy by Rev. Masato Kawahatsu

地 (Chi) means “Earth.” The left side of this character represents the soil and the right side represents a snake.

借 (Kari) means “borrow.” The left side represents a person, the bottom right side represents the sun and the strokes above represent “many years.” Together, it represents a person who has received care for many years.

物 (Mono) means “thing.” The left side represents an ox and the right side represents a colorful flag. This character shows that there can be many different types of one thing, ox for example.

Though we may believe that we “own” all the things in our lives, the reality is that we are borrowing everything, including our body, money, jobs, partners, children and the Earth from the universe. If we begin to shift our perspective to see that we borrow rather than own, I believe that we can establish true peace in the world. Since the beginning of mankind, there have been struggles over land and resources between countries and communities in conflict. Unfortunately, this continues to this day. We also fight over our belongings with family members, spouses or friends because we believe that those things are “ours” and not “theirs.”

As we mature, we may forget that we were once taken care of as children and that even our birth was a miracle from the universe. We begin to think that we came into this world by our own power and have achieved our success in this world by our own power. We believe that we work by our own power, get married by our own power, and buy things by our own power. This idea creates many problems and many people suffer because of this attitude.

So, what if we changed this idea? What if we believe that everything — our life, our relationships, our nice cars, and the beautiful mother Earth were here for us to borrow, not own? I believe this will give us a sense of calmness and unconditional love that will allow us to be at peace now and when our physical life ends. Knowing that we are merely returning our bodies and spirits back to the universe can bring a more natural and peaceful feeling to you and to those who are still continuing your legacy.

Think of when you get a rental car. You are on vacation, in a good mood, and use the car for sightseeing. You pay the rental company and are excited to have a car during your trip so that you can see lots of interesting things. Our body, in a way, can be seen like a rental car. We receive our body from the universe and we experience life. When the time comes, we can return our body to the universe with deep appreciation.

I would like to share another story with you to consider. There was a man who was surrounded by three thieves.

He calmly removed his fancy suit, watch, and wallet and told them, “Please take these things.” The thieves were so shocked at his calm and unselfish attitude that they became paranoid and afraid. They fled the scene without taking anything from him. I believe that the man in the suit felt that he was able to part with his material goods because he is just borrowing them from the universe.

Let us all practice adjusting our ideas of what is “ours” by instead considering everything to be borrowed from the universe. I hope that this brings you peace and allows you to gain a greater respect and understanding of your relationships with other people. This is very tough and it may take mankind a long time to be successful, but I believe that the journey is worth it. I hope you will share this with your friends and family so that we can reach a world that flourishes like this in the future.

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). He can be reached at or (415) 517-5563. The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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