Underground the tokyo ga.., p.31
Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, p.31Haruki Murakami
The members at the dojo were sober, resolute types. The masters and the instructors were all quite sincere and appealing. However, the way they responded to people from the outside—how shall I put it?—I think they could have done a better job. It’s like when a student graduates and gets his first job and he’s overly serious about it. He still doesn’t have any experience in society. Aum gave the same strong impression of immaturity—of students who know nothing about the world.
In order to become a renunciate I’d have to leave my teaching job. I met with the principal and told him I’d like to finish in March, at the end of the school year. I also talked it over with my “elder brother” in Aum. He told me, “There’s no need to rush. Wouldn’t it be best if you worked for another year, fulfilled your obligations, and then took vows?” I worried about it, but decided I’d work for another year.
However, as I continued my training I got immersed in astral, my subconscious began to emerge, and my sense of reality grew faint. *
When that happens you’re supposed to be apart from the world. It would have been all right if my subconscious had emerged during the summer vacation, but this happened just before. At its worst, when I was teaching a science class I couldn’t for the life of me remember if I’d already mixed the chemicals in the experiments or not. My sense of reality had vanished. My memory became hazy and I couldn’t tell whether I’d actually done something or only dreamed it.
My consciousness had gone over to the other side and I couldn’t get back. The Buddhist scriptures talk about it, how when you reach a certain point in your training this schizophrenic element appears. Inside me there was nothing certain I could rely on. Happily, I still had an awareness of where I was; if things had gotten any worse I might have become schizophrenic. I got more and more afraid. I had to cure that split personality at one stroke, but going to a psychiatrist wouldn’t help. The solution lay in my training. So I became a renunciate. If there was nothing within me I could rely on, then the only thing to do was to give myself up to Aum. Besides, I’d always thought that someday I’d renounce the world.
I talked with the principal again and told him I wanted to leave after all. For a teacher to resign his post in the middle of a school year is a major problem. He was very understanding and he let me go on sick leave until the end of the holidays. But I ended up sort of forcing them to let me go. I didn’t even say goodbye to any of my colleagues. I’m sure that caused some problems for the school. Most likely people thought I was totally irresponsible.
I became a renunciate on July 7. I contacted my parents and they came to see me while I was on sick leave. They were livid. I tried everything I could to persuade them but we got nowhere, no matter what I said. My parents didn’t mind me being interested in Buddhism, but to them Aum Shinrikyo was beyond the pale. I explained that it might appear that way, but Aum was based on a firm foundation of Buddhist teaching. For someone on the outside, though, their reaction was only to be expected.
“Come back home right now,” they said. “You have to choose between coming home or going over to ‘them.’” I agonized over my decision. If I were to go home to Hokkaido I would just continue living the same old life I’d been living. Nothing would be solved. I thought that getting deeper into Buddhism was the only solution. So I became a renunciate. But I did agonize over it.
I had one good friend among my fellow teachers who’d come over just about every day with some beer. “You’re not really going, are you?” he asked. He pleaded with me, tears in his eyes. But I was about to embark on something I’d been seeking since I was a child, so all I could tell him was, “I’m sorry. It’s something I have to do.”
After I took vows I went straightaway to Naminomura in Aso to do construction work. The roof of the Aum facility was just about finished. It was hard work, but engaging—different from anything I’d ever done before. It was invigorating, like using a different part of my brain. Afterward I went back to Mt. Fuji, where I did various jobs, and then went to work constructing Satyam No. 2 at Kamikuishiki-mura. They call the period just after you become a renunciate “Building up Spiritual Merit.” It consists mainly of menial jobs with a bit of ascetic training. Compared with when I was teaching, I didn’t have to worry about human relationships or responsibilities. Like when you’re a new employee at a company, you just do what the people, above tell you to do. Psychologically, it’s a great relief.
Still, I was uneasy. “If this doesn’t work out,” I wondered, “then what?” I was over 30, after all. There was no turning back, so I had to train all the harder. Can’t rely on anyone else. I’d chosen this life for myself, and if I couldn’t gain something valuable from it, then leaving the world would only lead to misery.
The next year  in September, I went back to Aso. This time I was part of the “Children’s Group” and taught the children of renunciates. There were about eighty kids altogether. I was in charge of science. Other people taught Japanese, English, various subjects. Most of them were former teachers. We developed a curriculum and ran things pretty much like a real school.
MURAKAMI: Did your teaching have a lot to do with religious education?
Well, in Japanese classes they used Buddhist scriptures as their main text, but science doesn’t have much to do with doctrine. I had trouble teaching science from an Aum viewpoint, and I asked the Founder [Asahara] for advice. “Since science and the lay world are one,” he said, “you should do whatever you wish.” “Are you sure it’s all right?” I asked [laughs].
So it was easy for me. I’d tape programs from TV and use them as our text. It was fun. I taught the Founder’s children, too, and sometimes he told me how much they were enjoying school. I only taught for about a year and then my ascetic training began.
As far as religious matters were concerned, the Master was—no doubt about it—a man of considerable power. I’m absolutely convinced of that. He was outstanding at adapting his sermon to his audience, and he had an enormous amount of energy. A long while after this I was transferred to what was called the Defense Ministry, where I worked installing and maintaining Cosmo cleaners, air filtration and cleaning equipment. Because of this I visited the Master’s home twice a week. I was also in charge of maintaining the cleaner in the Master’s own car. I had many chances to talk to him directly, and he said many thought-provoking things. I could feel he was trying as hard as he could to consider what was best for me, best for my development and growth. There’s a huge gap between that image of him and the picture you get at his trial.
In court people say, “The Master’s orders had to be obeyed absolutely.” From my own personal experience, however, many times when I didn’t agree with an order I’d suggest an alternative and he’d change his mind, saying, “All right. Let’s do it that way, then.” If you stated your opinion, he’d adjust things so you’d be satisfied. So at least for me, he didn’t seem to be forcing people to do things.
MURAKAMI: He might have acted differently depending on the type of order, and the type of people he was ordering about.
I have no idea. It’s a mystery. Each individual has his own image of the Master.
MURAKAMI: What did the Master—Asahara—mean to you personally? You can call him a guru or mentor, but it seems to me each believer had a slightly different image of him.
For me the Master was a spiritual leader. Not a prophet or anything, but the person who would provide the final answer to Buddhist teachings. The one who would interpret it for me. With Buddhism you can read the original scriptures all you want, but they’re just words on paper. No matter how deeply you study scripture by yourself, well, I wouldn’t exactly call it do-it-yourself Buddhism, but you do end up with your own skewed interpretation. What is critical is to progress, step by step, through proper training, to a correct understanding. After you’ve progressed one step, you stop and take stock and realize the progress you’ve made. It’s a repetition of this. And you need a teacher who can guide your training in the right dir
MURAKAMI: But sometimes you reach a point where doubts arise in your mind about whether your teacher is correct. For instance, are you convinced about things like Armageddon or the Freemasons?
I think part of what is said about the Freemasons is true, but I don’t swallow it whole.
MURAKAMI: At some point the character of Aum Shinrikyo began to change. Violent elements came to the surface. They manufactured guns, developed poison gas, tortured people: Did you have any inkling that this change was taking place?
Not at all. It was only later I found out. When I was inside Aum I had no idea. Though I did start to feel that pressure from the outside was growing stronger. And there were more people who felt ill, or whose health started to decline. This might be a problem if I say this, but there were spies who infiltrated the organization.
MURAKAMI: Did you know directly who the spies were?
No. But we were under surveillance by plainclothes police, and I’m certain that several spies had infiltrated. Though I can’t prove it.
Society is convinced that, from start to finish, the gas attack was the work of Aum—but I wonder. It’s clear Aum was the principal agent in the crime, but it seems like other people, other groups, were involved in aspects of it. There would be major repercussions if this surfaced, though, so someone’s keeping it under wraps. Of course, it would be difficult to prove anything.
MURAKAMI: It would be difficult. But let’s get back to life inside Aum. Was it entirely peaceful?
No, there were problems. For instance, the first time I went to Aso, I couldn’t believe how inefficient everything was. We’d construct a building only to have it torn down. The things we built weren’t what was needed. It’s just like a school festival. You work as hard as you can building a model, only to have it broken up as soon as the festival is over. So why do it? Because in the process of everyone working together you learn a lot: how to get along with others, various technical skills, all sorts of unseen elements. That’s why you work as hard as you can, only to destroy it. In the midst of this communal labor you grow to understand your own mind better.
MURAKAMI: Maybe the plans were just sloppy to begin with.
That might well be [laughs]. But what can you do? You just have to accept it. Businesses in Japan are more or less the same, aren’t they?
MURAKAMI: But no business would build a dam only to turn around and destroy it.
No, they probably wouldn’t go that far.
MURAKAMI: Did anybody complain about these inefficient ways?
Some people spoke up, some didn’t.
For a time I worked in the Science Group under Murai on the development of the Cosmo cleaner. A giant air-cleaning machine, in other words.
In connection with Cosmo cleaners, I was transferred to the newly formed Defense Ministry in 1994. Really something, isn’t it? The name [laughs]. From construction to science to the Defense Ministry. I didn’t take it all that seriously. I never thought we were trying to create our own state or anything.
I worked in Cosmo-cleaner maintenance. We made about sixty giant cleaners you attached to the sides of buildings. These developed into indoor Cosmo cleaners and activated Cosmo cleaners. We were in charge of maintaining them all. Truth be told, maintaining them was harder than building them. There were always problems—fluids leaking, faulty motors.
MURAKAMI: Cosmo cleaners were used at Satyam No. 7, weren’t they, where the sarin plant was located?
I wasn’t allowed in there. If I had been, I wouldn’t be sitting here today. On the day of the gas attack, I was at Satyam No. 2 in Kamikuishiki, waiting for the police raid. At that point we already knew they would be forcing their way in to investigate. A few media people were there, too, I think. But by 9 A.M. the police still hadn’t come, so I thought, “Today’s not the day,” and went back to work. I turned on the radio and heard about something out of the ordinary happening in the Tokyo subway. We weren’t supposed to listen to the radio, but I did anyway [laughs]. I talked to the colleague next to me about it. “They’ll be blaming Aum, too,” we decided. The police raid burst into our place two days later.
MURAKAMI: Mr. Inaba, do you admit now that one faction of Aum did indeed carry out the gas attack?
I do. There are some parts I can’t fully fathom, but since the people involved have confessed and are on trial, I believe that’s what happened.
MURAKAMI: What are your feelings about Asahara’s level of responsibility?
If he is responsible then he must be judged according to the law. But as I said before, there is such a huge gap between the Asahara I have in my mind and the Asahara I see on trial … As a guru, or religious figure, he had something very genuine. So I’m reserving judgment.
Inside me, also, are many wonderful things I received since entering Aum Shinrikyo. Putting those aside, though, what is bad must be clearly seen as such, and that’s what I’m trying to do now. Inside me. And, honestly, I don’t know how things will develop or what the future holds for me.
Generally people have the impression that Buddhism and Aum are completely different. Some people just simply classify Aum as a kind of mind control, but that’s far too simplistic. For me, it’s something I staked my whole life on during my twenties and thirties.
MURAKAMI: Esoteric Tibetan ascetic practice involves a one-to-one relationship between guru and disciple and aims at absolute devotion, doesn’t it? But what about this, for instance: what started out as a wonderful discipline somehow begins to get strange along the way—in computer terms it would be like a virus infects the computer and its functions, which are then out of kilter. There’s no third party to halt this process.
I don’t know about that.
MURAKAMI: So there is a danger inherent in this, because it involves absolute devotion. This time you just happened not to be involved in the incident, but if we pursue the logic here, if your guru orders you to commit po-a, it means you must do it, right?
But every religion gets implicated in that kind of thing. Even if, say, I was ordered to do that, I don’t think I could have. Hmm … which means, maybe I wasn’t devoted enough [laughs]. I hadn’t given over my entire self. Or to turn it around, you could say I was still weak. And I’m the type of person who has to be convinced of things before I can move on. Too commonsensical, I suppose.
MURAKAMI: So if you had been convinced, you might have carried it out? If they had said: “Mr. Inaba, you see, things are like this, and that’s why we have to commit po-a.” If they’d persuaded you, then what?
Well, I don’t know. It doesn’t. Hmm … it’s, well, hard to say.
MURAKAMI: What I’m trying to understand is what place is given to the Self in Aum Shinrikyo doctrine. In your training, how much do you leave up to your guru, and how much do you decide for yourself? I’m still not clear on this, even after listening to you.
In reality the Self can never be totally independent. There will always be some kind of intervention from outside. It’s affected by environmental factors, experiences, patterns of thought. So it’s not clear how far the pure Self extends. Buddhism begins with the realization that the Self that you believe is your Self is not the true Self. So Buddhism is perhaps the furthest you can get from mind control. It’s closer to Socrates’ idea that the wisest man knows he lacks wisdom.
MURAKAMI: It’s possible to view the Self as divided into surface and depth—an unconscious, something like a black box. Some people feel it’s their mission to pry open that black box in search of the truth. This might be something close to the astral you discussed.
Meditation is a method to reach the deepest part of your self. From a Buddhist perspective, deep within the subconscious lies each person’s essential sort of distortion. And that’s what it cures.
MURAKAMI: I think human beings should bo
I’m not exactly sure I can grasp what you’re saying, but I think I know what yoy’re getting at. It’s essentially the difference between wisdom and knowledge.
But you have to understand that there are people who have nothing to do with this incident who are working as hard as they can for their personal growth, to reach salvation. Of course Aum did some terrible things, that’s undeniable, but there are people being arrested for minor offenses and being intimidated who don’t deserve that. For example, if I go out for a walk, the police will follow me. If I try to get a job, I’ll be harrassed. People who’ve left Aum facilities can’t even find places to live. The media just puts out its one-sided view. No wonder we find it harder and harder to trust the secular world.
They tell us if we abandon our beliefs they’ll accept us, but people who have taken vows have pure motives, they are, in a sense, emotionally weak. If they could stay at home, work as usual, and train to improve themselves, no one would say anything. But they can’t, and that’s why they enter the temporary, isolated state called renunciation. People like that have a resistance to the obstacles of the worldly life, to those problems.
The structure of Aum has changed quite a lot, in very basic ways. It might look like nothing’s changed, but there’s been an internal transformation. There’s a move to return to the way it was at the beginning, where it began at the level of yoga. Having made the Founder’s child the new Leader, though, people might call that inexcusable and say we haven’t learned a thing.
Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche by Haruki Murakami / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes