Underground the tokyo ga.., p.29
Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, p.29Haruki Murakami
We talked about what we should do, and we all agreed that as much as possible we should continue our training. We certainly didn’t have any tragic sense of being driven into a corner or anything. Inside Aum it was like the eye of a hurricane, very calm.
I began to suspect Aum was the real culprit only after people were arrested and confessed. They were almost all friends of mine from long ago. Still, for the average Aum follower, whether they did it or not is beside the point; what was important was whether you would continue your ascetic training. How you developed your inner Self was more important than whether or not Aum was guilty.
MURAKAMI: But the teachings of Aum Shinrikyo went in a certain direction, resulting in these crimes where many people were killed or injured. How do you feel about this?
You have to understand that that part—Vajrayana Tantra—is clearly differentiated from the rest. *
Only those people who have reached an extremely high stage practise Vajrayana. We were told over and over that only those who have completed the Mahayana stage can carry that out. We were many levels below that. So even after the gas attack we didn’t question the training or activities we were involved in.
MURAKAMI: Setting aside the question of high or low stages, Vajrayana is an important part of Aum doctrine, so it has great significance.
I can understand your saying that, but from our standpoint it was pie in the sky—completely unconnected with what we normally did or thought. It was just too far away. There were tens of thousands of years’ worth of things you had to accomplish before you reached that level.
MURAKAMI: So you felt it had nothing to do with you? For the sake of argument, though, let’s say that your level shot way up to the level of Vajrayana, and you were ordered to kill someone as part of your path to reach Nirvana. Would you do it?
Logically, it’s a simple question. If by killing another person you raised him up, that person would be happier than he would have been living his life. So I do understand that path. But that should only be done by someone who has the ability to discern the process of transmigration and rebirth. Otherwise, you’d better leave it alone. If I’d been able to perceive what happens to a person after their death, and help them rise to a higher level—then maybe even I would have been involved. But there was no one in Aum who had risen that high.
MURAKAMI: Yet those five people did it.
But I wouldn’t have. That’s the difference. I couldn’t take responsibility for that kind of action. It scares me, and there’s no way I could do it. Let’s make one thing very clear. A person who cannot discern the transmigration of another does not have the right to take their life.
MURAKAMI: Was Shoko Asahara qualified to do that?
At the time I think he was.
MURAKAMI: But can you measure that? Do you have any objective proof?
No, at the moment I don’t.
MURAKAMI: So having him judged by our society’s laws, no matter what judgment is handed down, is unavoidable?
Right. I’m not saying that everything about Aum is correct. I just feel there’s a lot of value in it, and I want to use it somehow to benefit ordinary people.
MURAKAMI: On a very commonsense level, though, ordinary people were murdered. If you aren’t able to work that into the equation who will listen to you?
That’s why I don’t think we can talk about it in the framework of Aum anymore. I’m still in Aum, because the benefits I’ve received are so great. I’m trying to sort all this out, on an individual level. I still believe there are a lot of possibilities there. It requires a kind of logical reversal. There are hopeful elements, and I’m trying to clearly distinguish what I understand from what I don’t.
I’m going to wait about two years, and if Aum is still in the same shape it is now, I plan to drop out. Until then I’ve got a lot to think over. But one thing is certainly true—Aum Shinrikyo doesn’t learn from experience. It turns a deaf ear—no matter what other people say. It doesn’t affect it a bit. No sense of regret. It’s like what Aum members say about the gas attack: “That was a mission for other people. Not me.”
I’m not like that, since I think the attack was a terrible event. It should never have been carried out. So inside me this dreadful event is at war with all the good things I’ve experienced. People who have a stronger sense of the awful things that happened left Aum, those for whom the “good things” are stronger remain. I’m stuck somewhere in the middle. I’m going to wait and see.
“Nostradamus had a great influence on my generation”
Akio Namimura (b. 1960)
Mr. Namimura was born in Fukui Prefecture. He wanted to study literature and religion, which he’d been interested in before college, but he and his father, who was a stubborn man, clashed over what he should major in, and he gave up college to go to work. He got a job in an auto-parts factory in Fukui City. In high school he hated studying, and just read books on his own, always feeling alienated from his environment. Most of the books he read then were on religion or philosophy.
He has had a number of jobs, and continues to read, reflect, and write and to be interested in religions. Throughout his life he has had a clear sense that he and the world are out of sync. That’s why he sought connections with people who were living outside the mainstream. In the midst of his searching, though, he can never completely rid himself of doubts that what he discovers is not the answer he seeks. He finds it impossible to throw himself heart and soul into any one group, even when he was a member of Aum.
At present he is back in his hometown, working for a haulage company. He has always loved the sea and often goes swimming. He’s crazy about Okinawa. Hayao Miyazaki’s films make him cry. * “That proves I have normal human feelings,” he says.
When I graduated from high school I felt like I would either renounce the world, or die—one of the two. The idea of getting a job made me sick. If I could, I wanted to live a religious life. Since living meant accumulating sin, I thought dying would be much better for the world.
These ideas went through my head as I worked selling tires for an auto-parts company. At first I was a useless salesman. I’d walk into a gas station or repair shop, say “Hello,” then freeze up, unable to say another word. It was hard on me, and for my potential customers, too. In the beginning my sales record was zero.
Later I grew more sociable and was able to rack up some sales. It was good training for life. I worked there for two years. The reason I left was I lost my driver’s license.
One of my relatives happened to be running a cram school in Tokyo, and he said I could work there. I was thinking about becoming a novelist, and when I mentioned this he said, “You can study to be a novelist while you’re correcting essays.”
Sounds good, I thought, so I moved to Tokyo at the beginning of 1981 and started work at the school. But things weren’t as promised. My relative was suddenly very cold to me: “You want to be a novelist? Stop dreaming. The world’s not some fairyland, you know.” I wasn’t even allowed to help correct compositions. “You’re incompetent,” he said, and I had to settle for odd jobs—keeping the students quiet, cleaning the rooms, stuff like that. I put up with it for a year and a half, then threw in the towel.
I’d saved a bit of money while I was working in Fukui, so I decided to live on my savings for the time being and study to be a writer. So for three years I was unemployed. I kept my expenses down to a minimum. I didn’t buy anything, just food. I’m generally a pretty frugal guy, anyway. I just read, and wrote. The area I lived in was great since there were five public libraries a short distance away. It was a lonely life, but loneliness doesn’t bother me. Most people couldn’t have stood it, I imagine.
I mostly read surrealist fiction—Kafka, Breton’s Nadja, and the like. I went to university festivals, read all the little magazines they published, and made friends I could talk about literature with. One guy I became friends with was in the philosophy department at Waseda University, and he introduced me to a lot of w
This guy from Waseda had a friend named Tsuda who was a follower of Soka Gakkai. * He tried his hardest to get me to join. We debated religion back and forth, but finally he said: “Look, talking about it won’t get you anywhere. If you don’t actually experience it your life won’t change, so just take my word for it and give it a try.” So I joined his Soka Gakkai group, living with them for about a month, but I realized it wasn’t for me. They’re one of these religions that aim to help people become successful in this world. I was looking for a purer kind of doctrine. Like Aum. Aum was closer to the original teachings of Buddhism.
When my money ran out, I started working for a company transporting department-store goods. I did that for two years. It was a tough job, but I’d always been into the martial arts and liked to work out, so physical labor didn’t faze me. It was a part-time job, so the pay was low, but I worked three times harder than anyone else. I attended night classes at a place called the Japan Journalist Technical School. I thought I could write reportage.
Just around that time, though, life in Tokyo started to exhaust me. My mind was getting messed up. I was more violent, hot tempered. I was interested in nature then, and thought getting back to nature or moving back to my hometown sounded like a good idea. Once I get into something I really get into it. At the time it was ecology. Any way you cut it, the concrete jungle had burned me out and I longed to see the ocean in my hometown.
So I moved back to my parents’ house and started working on the construction of the Monju high-speed nuclear reactor. I put up scaffolding. I considered this training too, but it was extremely dangerous work. After a while you get used to heights. I fell a number of times, and came close to dying. Let’s see—I must have been there about a year. From the Monju reactor you have a fantastic view of the ocean. That’s why I chose that job. So I could see the ocean while I worked. The ocean where the Monju was built is the most beautiful area around.
MURAKAMI: But should someone into ecology work on a nuclear reactor?
I was planning to write reportage on it. I thought that by writing about it I could cancel out my participation in building it. Wishful thinking, perhaps. You know the film The Bridge on the River Kwai? My idea was something like that. You work hard to build something, then in the end destroy it yourself. Of course I wasn’t going to plant a bomb or anything. How should I put it? Since the sea that I loved so much was going to get polluted anyway, I might as well be the one to do it. Mixed-up emotions, I know. My mind was torn in different directions.
After a year I finished work on the Monju and went to Okinawa. I used the money I’d saved from the construction job to buy a used car, and I took the ferry to Okinawa and lived in my car for a while. I took a leisurely trip from one beach to the next. That took about two months. I fell in love with the great outdoors. What’s great about Okinawa is that each place you go to has its own distinct personality. Every summer I’d come down with “Okinawa Fever” and couldn’t sit still. I’d have to go. It made it hard for me to hold down a job. Come summer I’d just take off for Okinawa without a word.
In the meantime my father passed away, just before I turned 30. We didn’t get along. No one in the family liked him. People thought of him as a good person, but at home he was a tyrant. He got violent when he drank. He used to hit me when I was a kid. Later on I was physically stronger so I’d hit him first. I’m not proud of that. I should have been a better son.
I was always drawn to religion, but my father was materialist, a rationalist. This caused problems between us. I’d come out with some religious opinion and he’d laugh at me, saying, “Enough of this God nonsense!” He’d get furious. This made me so sad: “Why does he have to say such terrible things? And why doesn’t he accept anything I do?”
I was in Okinawa when my father’s condition got worse. I rushed back to Fukui, but he passed away soon afterward. He had cirrhosis of the liver, a horrible way to die. In the end he didn’t eat a thing, just drank and wasted away. On his deathbed he said to me, “Let’s have one good talk,” but I said, “Give me a break. Just go ahead and die, why don’t you?” In a sense, I think I killed him.
After the funeral I went back to Okinawa. I was working on a construction site. But being away from Fukui and my family, I got terribly depressed. I was fine after my father died. The whole family got together and we had a pretty lively old time. But suddenly after I returned to Okinawa I took a nosedive. It felt like I was being dragged down to hell, kicking and screaming. “I’m done for,” I thought. I’ll definitely end up in hell. No way I can go back. That kind of feeling. It was a severe case of clinical depression. I was steadily going mad. On rainy days when we couldn’t work I’d just lie curled up in bed. The others would go out to play pachinko, but I’d just stay there alone, completely blank.
One day, about three in the morning, I woke up and felt so terrible I thought, “This is it, I’m a goner.” I felt like I was going to lose consciousness. I called my mother and she told me to come back home. But my mental problems persisted even in Fukui. Nothing cheered me up. I spent the first month at home doing absolutely nothing.
What rescued me from this situation was a female yuta in Okinawa. *
Actually I’d read Lyall Watson’s book Lightning Bird: One Man’s Journey into Africa and I was quite moved by it.
MURAKAMI: That’s an interesting book, isn’t it?
The main character, Boshier, is an epileptic and a schizophrenic. But he and others like him were able to meet a teacher, go through training, and become sorcerers. In other words, they could turn negative elements into something positive. And people would look up to them. I read that and thought: “Hey! That’s me they’re talking about.” I started checking into it and found out that the same things are said about the yuta in Okinawa. In Okinawa that path to salvation still remains. So maybe I could become a yuta. I’m qualified, right? That’s what I thought. That was one way out for me.
So I went to Okinawa and was able to see a famous yuta. I met her along with several dozen other people, but she singled me out in the crowd, telling me I was troubled by something. It was like she could see right into my soul. “You’re troubled because of your father, aren’t you?” she said. “You’re clinging to your father and have to rid yourself of that attachment. Put your father behind you and take a step in a new direction. If your mother is still alive you must take good care of her. Living an ordinary life is the most important thing.”
Hearing this, I felt like a weight had lifted: “Ah, I’m saved!” And after that I stayed with just one company. In the summers I no longer took off for Okinawa. I decided to take good care of my mother and work hard, sticking to one job.
MURAKAMI: In Adrian Bosnier’s case he had to enter that other world, but in your case you could still return to this world. You were told, in fact, to return.
That’s right. That’s what happened. Having a normal life—marriage, kids—that’s all a kind of training, I was told. In fact, it’s the most difficult sort of training.
I’d been keeping an eye on religions for some time, checking them out. I was pretty involved in Christianity, and Soka Gakkai, as I mentioned. Even now I attend a Christian church. So Aum was just a tiny part of my life. Still, even now I feel Aum was something special. That’s how much power it had.
In 1987 when Aum first appeared I wrote asking for some introductory literature. A heap of pamphlets arrived. I was amazed how professional they were, that a brand-new religion had the money to publish such slick stuff.
At the time there wasn’t an Aum branch in Fukui, but there was one in nearby Sabae, where a man named Omori allowed Aum members to use his apartment as a meeting place once a week. They invited me and I went every once in a while. They showed a video clip about Aum that had appeared on the All-Night Live TV! show, and I was impressed
He explained that Aum followers were using primitive Buddhism as a base to develop kundalini through ascetic practice. He could answer any question clearly and simply. “This is really something,” I thought. “What an impressive guy, and what an amazing group.”
All the people there were Aum followers except me. I was just an observer. One practical reason kept me from going in further at the time: Aum costs money. They had a course you could take—ten tape cassettes for 300,000 yen. They were sermons by Master Asahara, so they were very effective. That’s a cheap price to pay to get power, everyone thought, and shelled out 300,000 yen. But that only made me afraid. I was poor, and stingy to boot, so maybe I was even more sensitive to this.
We all took a bus together to Nagoya. It was the first time I saw Shoko Asahara. I wasn’t a member yet, so I wasn’t allowed to ask him any questions. In Aum you have to rise up through the ranks if you want to do anything, and that cost money. Once you got to a certain level you were allowed to ask Asahara questions. A step up from that and you were given a flower garland. I saw this in Nagoya and thought it was pretty silly. Also Asahara was gradually being deified, which disturbed me.
I subscribed to the Aum journal Mahayana from the very first issue. In the beginning it was a good magazine. They took great care in presenting the experiences of actual believers, and had stories on “How I Became an Aum Member,” using people’s real names. I was impressed by their honesty. After a while, though, the magazine didn’t focus on individual members but solely on Asahara, raising him higher and higher with everyone worshipping him. For instance, when Asahara was going anywhere believers would lay their clothes on the ground for him to walk on. That’s a bit much. It’s scary—worship one person too much and freedom goes out the window. On top of that, Asahara was married and had a lot of children, which I found strange in light of the original tenets of Buddhism. He got around this by saying that he was the Final Liberated One and those kinds of things would not accumulate as karma. Of course no one really knew if he was or not.
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