Underground the tokyo ga.., p.28
Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, p.28Haruki Murakami
MURAKAMI: Did you read books about Buddhism as well?
Not real studies of Buddhism. The ones I read didn’t seem very direct in their approach. I couldn’t discover the “remedy” I was searching for. They talked about various sutras, but never got to the heart of the matter, the part I really wanted to find out about. Records of people’s actual experiences had more of what I was looking for.
Of course, there were parts I couldn’t believe. I don’t know why, but for some reason I was convinced I could distinguish which parts of people’s stories could be believed and which parts couldn’t. Call it experience, or intuition. Anyway, I had a strange confidence that I could do this.
MURAKAMI: It sounds to me like you exclude everything that goes against your own theories or feelings. There are many things in the world that run counter to ones viewpoint, that challenge one’s cherished ideas, yet I don’t get a sense that you tried to engage with these.
Ever since I was in elementary school I hardly ever lost an argument to an adult. I know it’s not true, but the adults all seemed like idiots to me. Now I regret having thought this way. I was immature then. If I brought up a certain point, I knew, I’d lose the argument, so I’d make a detour around it. That way I never lost. I got a bit big-headed.
I got along with my friends okay. I’d adjust whatever I said to fit the person I was talking to. I always knew just the right thing to say at any point to smooth things over. So I had a lot of friends. I lived that way for about ten years, enjoying entertaining my friends. But when I got home and was alone I wondered what my life would be like if I continued this way. In the final analysis I didn’t have a single friend who was interested in the same things I was.
I didn’t take the entrance exams for college, but went instead to an electricians’ school. I studied engineering, but that wasn’t what I really wanted to do. I still wanted real wisdom. One ideal I had was to scientifically systematize Eastern philosophy.
Take biophotons, for example, the light that living things give off. If you compiled detailed statistics on the relationship between that and illness, you might be able to discover the physical properties involved. For instance, there must be some physical properties you could discover by connecting biophotons and the movements of the heart. This is something I believe from my experiences with yoga.
MURAKAMI: So it was very important for you to be able to measure the amounts of the force or to be able to map it visually.
That’s right. If you systematize things this way, your arguments will ring true. In this sense modern science is an amazing system. In Aum, too, there are many valuable parts. I want the meat of it to remain. Aum’s finished as a religion. It has to be theoretized as a natural science.
I’m not much interested in things that can’t be measured scientifically. What cannot be measured has no persuasive power, so whatever value it might have can’t be transmitted to other people. If things that can’t be measured acquire power, you end up with something like Aum. If you’re able to measure things, you can exclude the potential danger.
MURAKAMI: Okay, but how much reality would these measurements have? And wouldn’t they differ depending on your viewpoint? There’s also the danger that data could be manipulated. You’d have to decide at what point your measurements are sufficient, not to mention the question of the reliability of the instruments used to do the measuring.
As long as the statistical structure you use is the same as that used in medical science, then it’s okay. These symptoms mean this, this is how you treat them, that sort of thing.
MURAKAMI: I don’t imagine you read novels.
No, I don’t. Three pages is about the most I can manage before I give up.
MURAKAMI: Since I’m a novelist I’m the opposite of you—I believe that what’s most important is what cannot be measured. I’m not denying your way of thinking, but the greater part of people’s lives consists of things that are unmeasurable, and trying to change all these to something measurable is realistically impossible.
True. It’s not that I believe all these things that can’t be measured are worthless, it’s just that the world seems filled with unnecessary suffering. And the causes of suffering are increasing—uncontrollable desires are causing people to suffer. The appetite for food, for instance, or sex.
What Aum did was reduce that type of psychological stress, and by doing so increase each individual’s power. Ninety-nine percent of the image that Aum followers have of Aum Shinrikyo is exactly this—a way of looking at spiritual and physical phenomena, and a remedy or solution to these. The organization or some eschatological philosophy, or whatever is just an image of Aum created by the media. I didn’t know anybody who cared about Nostradamus’s Prophecies. Nobody’s going to be convinced by something like that.
What I really want to do is scientifically systematize Eastern philosophical ideas such as transmigration and karma. If you visit India you’ll find that people there believe these things intuitively, they’re an integral part of their daily lives, but in advanced countries we live in an age when it’s necessary to put these on a theoretical basis in order for people to understand and accept them.
MURAKAMI: Before the war some Japanese believed the Emperor was a deity, and they died for this belief. Is this acceptable to you? That things are fine as long as you believe in them?
If that were the end of it, that would be okay, but if you consider the afterlife, it’s better to live a Buddhist life.
MURAKAMI: But that’s just a question of different objects of belief—whether you believe in the Emperor or in Buddhist transmigration.
But the results are different. What you attain after death if you believe in the Emperor is not what you get after death believing in Buddhism.
MURAKAMI: That’s just what Buddhists say. People who believed in the Emperor thought that if you died for him your soul would rest in Yasukuni Shrine and find peace. So you’re saying this is okay?
That’s why I’m so concerned about a method to prove Buddhism mathematically. That method doesn’t exist yet, which is why we get into these sorts of debates. There’s nothing more I can add.
MURAKAMI: So if a method was found to measure the Emperor theoretically you wouldn’t mind this?
Correct. As long as this was beneficial to that person after death, I wouldn’t mind.
MURAKAMI: What I’m getting at is that if you examine the history of science you can see that it has been manipulated in the name of politics and religion. The Nazis did this. There’s been lots of sham science that in retrospect was misguided. And this has brought untold harm to society. Granted you’re a person who closely gathers evidence, but most people, told by authority figures that something is “scientific,” swallow it whole and go along with whatever they say. And to me that’s very frightening.
I just think our present situation is frightening. But people in the world today are suffering needlessly. That’s why I’m trying to think of ways this can be avoided.
MURAKAMI: By the way, how did you come to join Aum Shinrikyo?
I read a book about easy meditation you can do at home and when I tried it something very weird happened to me. I didn’t practice it all that seriously, but when I attempted to purify my chakras, my chi [life force] got that much weaker. What you’re supposed to do when you purify your chakras is simultaneously strengthen your life force. But I didn’t. And my chakras were out of balance. I felt like I was burning up one minute, freezing cold the next. My energy level was way down, and I was always anemic. It was a dangerous situation. I couldn’t eat anything and I lost a lot of weight. I felt sick whenever I attended classes at college, and I couldn’t study at all.
Around that time I went to the Aum dojo at Setagaya. They explained my situation to me and told me right then and there how to treat it. I tried the breathing exercises they taught me, and I couldn’t believe how quickly I got better.
For two months after that I didn’t go to the dojo very much, but then I st
There were very few people who started out as renunciates. It’s rare. But I was so weak I couldn’t walk properly and I was sure if things continued as they were I wouldn’t be able to live a normal life. “You don’t fit this transient world,” I was told [by Asahara], and I certainly agreed—no need to convince me of that. We didn’t really have a conversation, he just came out with it. He usually didn’t say anything, but would be able to tell a lot about a person just by looking at his face. Like he knew everything about you. That’s why people believed in him.
MURAKAMI: Of course, one might suspect that before he met a person he’d have a file on him, with all kinds of data.
Sure, that’s possible. At the time, though, it didn’t seem like that. I became a renunciate in 1989, and at that time there were only about two hundred renunciates. At the end I think there were about three thousand.
When he was kind to you, that man [Asahara] was kinder than anyone I’ve ever met. But when he was angry, he was the scariest person in my life. The difference was so marked just talking to him made you convinced he was somehow inspired.
It was tough on me being told to become a renunciate. I didn’t want to worry my parents, and I hated the idea of new religions. I explained things to them as best I could but they cried a lot, which upset me. My parents aren’t the type to argue, they just cry. My mother passed away not long after this, which hurt terribly. She had a lot of stressful things happen to her around then, and this business with me might have been the last straw. My father probably thinks I’m the one who killed her. I’m sure he does.
[Not long afterward, there was an election for the Lower House of the Japanese Diet, and Aum Shinrikyo had several candidates. Mr. Kano was convinced that Asahara would be elected. Even now he finds it hard to believe that almost no one voted for him. Many followers think the election was rigged. After this, Mr. Kano was assigned to the Construction Division of Aum and worked on Aum facilities at Naminomura in Kumamoto Prefecture.]
I was in Naminomura about five months, where I worked as a long-distance truck driver. I drove all over Japan gathering materials. It wasn’t so bad. At the construction site you’d be working under the intense sun, so compared to that driving a truck was a breeze.
Life in Aum was much tougher than secular life, but the tougher it was, the more satisfying it felt; my inner struggles were over, for which I was grateful. I made a lot of friends, too—adults, kids, old ladies, men, women. Everyone in Aum was aiming for the same thing—raising their spiritual level—so we had lots in common. I didn’t have to change myself to get along with others.
No doubts remained, because all our questions were answered. Everything was solved. We were told: “Do this, and this will happen.” No matter what question we had, we got an answer straightaway. I was completely immersed in it [laughs]. The media never reports that aspect. They label it all mind control. But actually it isn’t. That’s just what they say to boost talk-show ratings. They don’t even try to report the facts.
I went back to the Mt. Fuji headquarters after Naminomura and worked with computers. Hideo Murai was my superior. I had some things I wanted to investigate, and Murai said, without much interest, “Just go ahead.” He was doing all he could to carry out orders from above.
MURAKAMI: When you say “from above” you mean Asahara?
Yes. Murai was trying to suppress his own ego as much as possible. The last thing he cared about was someone below him coming up with an idea. But he didn’t mind it if we had something we wanted to investigate on our own.
My position was “assistant master,” the highest rank you could attain below the Aum leadership itself, something like the head of a section in a company. Not all that impressive, really. I had nobody directly below me. It was like I was working on my own, with no restrictions. I knew a lot of people like that. If you believe the media reports, everyone was under strict control like they were living in North Korea, but actually many people were free to do what they wanted. And of course we were free to come and go. We didn’t have our own cars, but we could borrow one whenever we wanted.
MURAKAMI: But later on there was systematic violence—the murder of the lawyer, Mr. Sakamoto, and his family, fatal beatings, the Matsumoto incident. Didn’t you have any inkling that these things were taking place?
There seemed to be more activity than usual, secretive, suspicious goings-on. But no matter what I might have seen, I’m sure I would have stubbornly insisted first and foremost that the personal benefits of what we were doing outweighed anything bad. I couldn’t believe all the reports in the media. However, since about two years ago , I’ve started to think that maybe those kinds of things really did take place.
I was sure that there was no way our group could hide something like the Sakamoto affair for so many years. Because the whole organization was so haphazard. It was like communism: if you made a mistake, you wouldn’t get fired, and though we say we had “jobs” in Aum, it’s not like we were drawing a salary or anything. I wouldn’t call it irresponsible, exactly, there was just no sense of individual responsibility. Everything was sort of unclear and random. There was a sense that as long as your spiritual level was advancing, nothing else mattered. Most people in the secular world have a wife or family, so they have a certain sense of responsibility and work as hard as they can, but in Aum this was completely missing.
Say, for example, you’re at a construction site and a steel frame has to arrive by tomorrow for work to continue. If it doesn’t get there the person in charge just says, “Oh, that’s right, I forgot about it.” And that’s the end of that. He might be scolded a little, but he doesn’t care. Everyone has reached a stage where the harsh realities of everyday life don’t affect them. Even if something bad happens, they just say it’s bad karma dropping away, and everybody’s happy. Making mistakes, getting yelled at—they just view these as so many personal impurities falling away [laughs]. They’re pretty tough people when you think about it. No matter what happens, it doesn’t bother them. Aum members looked down on ordinary people in the secular world. Like: “Look how they’re all suffering, but we’re not bothered.”
MURAKAMI: You were involved with Aum for six years, from 1989 to 1995. Did you have any problems or doubts during that time?
I felt gratitude, fulfillment. Because even if something painful happened, they would explain the meaning of it to me in great detail. As you advanced to a higher stage, everyone was amazing. Fumihiro Joyu is a good example, but there were many people like him who were just as eloquent. Something in Aum definitely operated on a different level from the secular world. The higher up you advanced, the less sleep you needed; lots of people only slept three hours a day. Hideo Murai was like this. Spiritual power, discernment—these higher-ups were pretty astounding in everything.
MURAKAMI: Did you have times when you could meet Shoko Asahara and talk to him directly?
Yes, I did. In the past, when there were fewer followers, people often went to him with silly problems—like the fact that they were always feeling sleepy, etc., but as the organization grew we didn’t have as many opportunities. We couldn’t approach him on a one-to-one basis anymore.
I went through many kinds of initiations. Some of them were pretty hard. The one they called “Heat” was really bad. They involved drugs, too. I didn’t know it at the time but it was LSD. You take that and it’s like only your mind is left. You have no sense of your body, you’re face-to-face with your deepest subconscious. Not an easy thing to confront, believe me. You feel completely listless, l
MURAKAMI: But it appears some people experienced some pretty bad trips and ended up with deep emotional scars.
That’s when the dose is too strong, and when other methods didn’t work. There was a division in Aum called the Medical Ministry, run by Ikuo Hayashi, but it was a pretty random affair. I think that if they’d done it more scientifically, there wouldn’t have been any problems. You have to remember that in Aum there was the idea that you should be given all types of tough challenges and overcome them. With the drugs, though, a bit more consideration would have helped.
MURAKAMI: In March 1995, when the gas attack occurred, where were you and what were you doing?
I was in my room at Kamikuishiki alone, using my computer. I had Internet access and I often read the news that way. We weren’t supposed to, but I just went ahead anyway. Occasionally I went out, bought a newspaper, and passed it around to others. If you were found out they’d warn you, but it was no big deal.
So I was on the Internet reading the news flashes when I learned about the incident in the Tokyo subway. But I didn’t think Aum was involved. I didn’t know who did it, but I was certain it wasn’t Aum.
After the attack Kamikuishiki was raided. We thought that members of the Science and Technology Ministry would all be arrested on trumped-up charges and it looked like it was best to get out, so I took a car and drove around while the police searched the place. I was certain it wasn’t Aum.
Even after he [Asahara] was arrested, I didn’t feel any anger. It seemed unavoidable. Aum followers believe that anger is a sign you are still spiritually immature. Instead of getting angry, we thought it was more virtuous to see deeper into the reality of a situation, then consider what actions to take.
Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche by Haruki Murakami / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes