"Sage in the Village"
(Sato no sennin)

Becoming a "sage in the village," as opposed to a "sage in the mountains," is one way in which the Tenrikyo ideal is expressed.

The focus in Tenrikyo is very much on daily life. Its teachings are sometimes referred to as "teachings given in the kana syllabary," which is meant to imply that they are easy for anyone to understand and put into practice in his or her day-to-day life. In fact, it teaches that spiritual growth--which is necessary to realize the Joyous Life World, the ultimate purpose of human existence according to Tenrikyo--is to be nurtured in the context of daily life itself. Thus, followers are not taught to seclude themselves from the world around them in order to engage in special training in the hope of gaining extraordinary powers or insights; rather, they are to work toward the goal of living in full accord with God's teachings while living in society without getting caught up in worldly ways.

For some people, the word "sage" conjures up the image of a profoundly wise, superhuman being who is immortal and lives deep in the mountains far away from any human habitation. His supernatural powers and immortality are thought to be the result of severe austerities. By definition, the legendary sage does not live in any village or any place where ordinary people live.

The word "sage" may also be associated with the life of a religious hermit who renounces the world in order to attain spiritual enlightenment. Sometimes recommended in some religious traditions as a means of freeing oneself from worldly desires, this way of living may entail discarding all one's possessions, leaving one's family, living in a serene environment far removed from everyday cares and distractions, and undergoing the mortification of the flesh.

Oyasama, on the other hand, is reported to have instructed Her followers to set their sights on becoming a "sage in the village." While using a word familiar to those She taught--namely, "sage"-- Oyasama gave a new meaning to it by adding the phrase "in the village," which implies that the followers are to stay in ordinary, everyday contexts.

Unlike living in a remote, secluded environment--where the absence of distractions may facilitate focusing on spiritual training--living "in the village" means that there is a high likelihood for people to get sidetracked by worldly matters. According to Tenrikyo, however, its teachings will enable them to maintain the clarity and purity of mind typified by a "sage" while living in the common world without falling into common ways. This is seen as a key to a life filled with joy.

We may note in passing that the Story of Creation's portrayal of the raw materials for human seeds as "loaches" may have some relevance to living as a "sage in the village," for loaches live in muddy water without ever getting muddy themselves.

The term under discussion, which is considered pregnant with meaning, seems to capture succinctly how the Tenrikyo faith should be practiced.

(This article was first published in the May 2008 issue of TENRIKYO.)