Underground the tokyo ga.., p.32
Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, p.32Haruki Murakami
MURAKAMI: I’m not saying that, but if you don’t publicly reflect on what happened and show remorse, if you just continue as if nothing has happened, no one is going to believe you. I don’t think it’s as simple as saying: “That’s something other people did. The basic teachings of Aum are correct. We’re victims too.” There are dangerous elements within the essence of Aum, within the structure of your doctrine. Aum has the duty to say all this in a public statement. Do that, and no one would mind if you continued your own style of religious activities.
Ever so slowly, incompletely, we’re trying to come up with a kind of interim report. It doesn’t completely sum up everything, but the media will never publish it anyway. If we made mistakes, well, we want people to point these out. But the Buddhist establishment won’t have anything to do with us, and remains silent.
MURAKAMI: Isn’t that because you always stick to your own vocabulary and way of phrasing things? You have to speak in ordinary terms, ordinary logic, like you’re holding a normal conversation. If you make it sound like you’re talking down to people, nobody’s going to listen.
Yes, it’s very difficult. But what would happen if we did speak in an ordinary way? [laughs] Since the media has made these one-sided attacks on us, no one would believe us, or they would just react in disgust. No matter what we say, when it appears in the media it’s always distorted. There’s not a single media outlet that would transmit our true feelings. No one comes like you have to really listen to us.
If you boil it all down, though, you arrive at the question of how critical the Founder [Asahara] is to this, and his real motives haven’t been revealed. As far as the gas attack goes, I think everything leads back to that. It’s asking a lot for us to explain the whole affair in a way that everyone would understand.
I’m still a member of Aum, but the people who have left Aum don’t think Aum is 100 percent bad, and those who remain don’t think it’s 100 percent correct. There are lots of people wavering. So it’s not like the media reports it, that the remaining members are all dogmatic believers. Most of the really dogmatic devotees of Asahara have left.
Every member is deeply troubled. Some people who’ve left have come to me for advice, and we’ve talked about this. I think I’ve gained a little breathing space now, but there was a time when all I could think about was whether I’d be able to adjust to life outside.
At the moment I’m earning my living teaching children in their homes. The members here live as a community, helping each other out. The guys I live with are out working on construction sites. When they heard you were coming they wanted to meet you, but they couldn’t very well skip work [laughs]. Everyone’s just doing odd jobs. The guy next door, for instance, is a truck driver. He’s been doing it for quite some time. Of course if his company heard he was an Aum member no one would hire him, so he keeps it a secret at work.
Other than rent I hardly spend anything. I don’t watch TV. Meals are provided. No luxury items. Utilities take up a bit. We can get by on about 60,000 yen. College students use about 100,000 yen a month, don’t you think? All of us are living like this, just scraping by.
The media says Aum is involved in all kinds of business deals, but that’s not true. Of course the Aum-related company Aleph, Inc., is still in business, but since the police are interfering, it’s not easy to keep it going. Some renunciates are old people who can only work from home, and some are ill. We have to take care of them. Everyone has to work to make sure they can be fed and housed. So there isn’t a lot of room to maneuver as far as money is concerned.
MURAKAMI: How are the Aum children you taught?
They’ve all gone back to the secular world and attend normal schools. Since you can’t raise children on a part-time job, their parents have all stopped being renunciates and are working full-time. I imagine it must have been hard for them to find work. I really don’t know much about how the kids are doing. In many cases they were forcibly separated from their parents.
Our way of teaching doesn’t involve hitting or any kind of violence. Our basic approach is to talk things through and use logic to persuade people. As renunciates, we have to follow our precepts strictly, or else what we say won’t be very convincing. It’s like telling someone not to smoke while you’re sitting there puffing away. Who’s going to believe you? Children watch how adults act very closely. Some of the Aum children were taken to juvenile homes, and I imagine the people there must have had their hands full [laughs].
“This was like an experiment using human beings”
Hajime Masutani (b. 1969)
Mr. Masutani was born in 1969 in Kanagawa Prefecture. His family was “very ordinary,” but he began to feel alienated from them, and they ended up barely speaking. He had no interest in sports or school, but loved drawing.
In college he studied architectural design. He didn’t have much interest in religion until some new religions contacted him. Aum Shinrikyo was the most attractive, and he became a member.
Just before the gas attack, he criticized some of Aum’s policies and was put in solitary confinement in Kamikuishiki. He felt in danger and ran away. For this Aum excommunicated him.
He likes to approach everything logically. Although critical of Aum teachings, he thinks highly of some of it. During his training he had several mystical experiences, but has little interest in “the supernatural,” eschatology, or conspiracy theories about groups like the Freemasons. When still a member he disliked the fact that Aum was moving in these directions. Nevertheless, he found it difficult—until his life was threatened—to leave Aum.
He hides the fact that he was a former member and lives alone, working part-time. We talked for many hours and he truly opened up to me.
I never felt any major frustration or difficulties in my life, really. It was more like something was missing. I was really into art, but the idea of spending my life painting pictures, making some money from them, had no appeal. In college, I happened to come across a book about Aum in a bookstore, and it really grabbed me. “Maybe instead of painting,” I thought, “living a religious life will help me get closer to the reality inside me.”
I was a freshman in college at the time, traveling alone in the Kansai region, when I heard there was an Aum dojo in Kyoto, and dropped by. It took place inside a rented building and was very spartan—even the altar was simple. It wasn’t like some religions that spend money in a flashy way. It had integrity. The people wore simple clothes, too. Mr. Matsumoto was there and I was able to hear him preach. *
To be honest, I couldn’t understand what he was getting at [laughs]. I was tired from the journey and kept dozing off. But I did feel a strong thread running through his sermon, and got the impression it was quite profound. I think I approached things with an artist’s intuition, relying on emotions rather than logic.
After the sermon we were invited to stay if we wanted to talk. I was able to talk one-to-one with Hideo Murai, who was said to have reached salvation. He didn’t have any holy atmosphere about him, and just struck me as an ordinary Aum follower. After we talked about the body and other things, he rather abruptly said: “Well, how about joining?” Later on, I realized that was one of Aum’s standard tactics. Usually people who go to these kinds of places are lacking something or seeking something, but the dojo seemed pleasant enough, and being asked to join like that, out of the blue, I just went with the flow and filled out the application forms. It cost 30,000 yen to join, and I didn’t have the money on me at the time, so I paid after I got back to Tokyo.
For a while I went to the Setagaya dojo, but spent most of my time distributing Aum leaflets. Instead of training, we had to build up merit. At the dojo they had maps dividing Tokyo into various sections and we’d be told what area to cover that day. We’d drive over there at night and they’d say, “You’re covering this neighborhood,” and off we’d go. We’d walk around, sticking leaflets in people’s mailboxes. I took the job seriously. I had a sense of accomplishment whenever I finish
MURAKAMI: So distributing leaflets was more fun for you than going to school?
The direction of my life had changed. No matter how much I studied architectural design and found a good job, that’s all there’d be. I came to think it was more meaningful to persist in spiritual training and to eventually reach enlightenment.
MURAKAMI: So at this point you had already lost interest in ordinary life and had shifted to a more spiritual goal?
MURAKAMI: People who agonize over fundamental issues usually go through a sort of set pattern: reading all sorts of books when they’re young, discovering different philosophies and choosing from them a system of ideas. But you didn’t do this. You let your mood carry you along and just went straight into Aum.
I was young. Aum started to play a greater role in my life. For the most part I stopped attending classes, failed to pick up some credits I needed, and knew I’d be held back a year. It was just at this delicate stage that Mr. Matsumoto [Asahara] suddenly said: “You should become a renunciate.” So I thought it was a good idea.
This was during what they call “Secret Yoga.” Mr. Matsumoto [Asahara] would be sitting there, flanked by several of his senior disciples, and you’d sit facing them and get personal advice or make a confession or something. In those days ordinary believers could talk face-to-face with him. This was the period when Aum was trying to increase its members so it could expand, and I think he was just trying to boost the numbers rather than carefully considering my case. The staff also told me that “The reason you aren’t able to cope in the secular world is because of the ‘karma of renunciation.’” Soon afterward I became a renunciate. This was in 1990. I was among the first. At the time I was steeped in Aum and didn’t hesitate. When the guru says “renounce the world” that’s what the disciple’s supposed to do. I believed Mr. Matsumoto [Asahara] was the person who could answer any question I had. I trusted him.
When I was a believer, before I became a renunciate, I participated halfheartedly in the election campaign. The guru wanted us to, so I did what I could, but I had no interest in the election. I questioned everything we did, like even. then I wasn’t in sync with what was going on [laughs]. For me enlightenment was uppermost, and anything else was wasted effort. Even if enlightened practitioners tell you something is correct, there might well be something in it you can’t yet grasp. Aum followers tend to think that way. You don’t understand something, but there’s still some profound meaning in it.
My family was opposed to my taking vows but they’ve never mattered much to me. I left college, moved out of my apartment, threw out all my possessions, and went to live at the Aum headquarters at Mt. Fuji. We were limited to what we could bring with us—only two suitcases of clothes.
After that I was sent to Naminomura at Aso. Since I’d studied architectural design, I was transferred to the building site, though all I’d done in college was drafting. They selected me over some physically stronger people, so I thought there might be some mistake. “Are you sure that’s right?” I asked. And they said, “Just go anyway,” and that’s what I did. In the end I was a laborer for just one day and told my superior Naropa [Fumihiko Nagura] that I couldn’t continue. I just didn’t have the physical stamina. So I was transferred to the Home Economics Division. I prepared meals and was in charge of collecting laundry. It took quite a while to get used to life there, but doing the tasks assigned to me by the guru was an act of devotion, so I did my best.
The work at Aso was so hard a lot of people left. I thought it was too late to return to society, so I stayed put. I must say, though, that I did have a sense of accomplishment working there. We followed the “Aum Diet” and every day consisted of very old rice and boiled vegetables. Live that way for a while and visions of the food you’d like to eat pop into your head, but I tried to create a Self that wouldn’t be tempted by them. I was pretty much a vegetarian to begin with and the diet didn’t bother me too much. I felt light and free from all the attachments in the world that can delude you.
Let’s see … how long was I at Naminomura? We didn’t have calendars so there was no sense of the days passing. I must have been there quite some time. We completed several buildings. If you live such a simple, unvarying life for so long, shut off from the outside, small irritations start to appear. A great conflict arose in me between those and my desire for salvation.
I was called back to Mt. Fuji to join the Animation Division. By then Aso was no longer the center of Aum activities and had become a kind of backwater, so I was happy to leave. In the Animation Division I drew pictures for cartoons. It was pretty crude stuff. We used animation to explain how Mr. Matsumoto [Asahara] had supernatural powers. Him hovering in the air and so on. A real film would have been convincing, but no one would be convinced by a cartoon. The final product was awful. Around this time I had more opportunities to be with Mr. Matsumoto [Asahara]. I found myself growing more mistrustful of him and of Aum.
After this I did all sorts of jobs and finally Shoko Asahara ordered me to concentrate on training. It involved study and meditation and was spiritually fulfilling in part, but very strenuous. Other than time out to eat and go to the toilet we had to sit there the entire day. We even had to sleep sitting up. We studied for a certain number of hours, and then took a test. This went on day after day.
I must have done that training for about half a year. My sense of time is vague, so I’m just guessing … Some people did it for years. You have no idea when you can leave. The guru decides. I was kept in training for a long time, then sent back to work, then back to train …
MURAKAMI: Was Asahara the one who decided when you advanced to the next level? Like, “Tomorrow you’ll move on to the next stage”?
That’s right, but I never advanced at all. I didn’t even get a holy name.
MURAKAMI: But you did it for a long time and worked hard at it. Why didn’t you advance?
Aum was very realistic about granting salvation to those who had contributed a lot to the organization. Of course people’s spiritual levels were a factor, but how much you donated really made a difference. For men, their educational background was often the key. Tokyo University graduates were quickly raised to a higher level of salvation, or given a more important job, or made a leader. For women it depended on how attractive you were. No kidding. Not much different from the secular world (laughs).
I don’t think I was of much use to Mr. Matsumoto [Asahara]. Up to a certain point I was sure my failure to advance was due to my lack of effort, but at the same time I thought that maybe everybody else felt the same way, namely that Tokyo University graduates seemed to enjoy special favor from the Master.
I often mentioned this to my friends, but they’d cut me off by saying, “You think that way because of your uncleanliness” or “That’s karma,” which means that whenever any doubts came to mind everything could be blamed on your own uncleanliness. Similarly, all good things were “Thanks to the guru.”
MURAKAMI: That’s a pretty efficient system. Everything’s recycled or brought to a conclusion within the system itself.
I believed it was the path to follow in order to do away with the Self.
At first everyone who joined had very strong wills, but after living in Aum you’d lose that. No matter how dissatisfied you might be with Aum life it was preferable to life outside with its uncleanliness and attachments. Living with a group of like-minded people, it was psychologically easier to stay put.
MURAKAMI: Around 1993 Aum became more violent. Did you sense this was happening?
I did. Sermons increasingly focused on Vajrayana Tantra and more people seemed worked up about the idea that Vajrayana Tantra was about to take place. I couldn’t follow the doctrine that the means didn’t matter. I didn’t feel comfortable with it. Our training started to include some bizarre elements: mar
Not that it mattered much what I thought, since Mr. Matsumoto [Asahara] was convinced this was the shortest path to our goals. If that’s the case, there’s not much you can do. Either you stay or leave.
Our training started to include being hung upside down. Anyone breaking commandments had their legs tied up in chains and they were hung upside down. It doesn’t sound like much if you just describe it, but it’s torture, plain and simple. The blood drains from your legs and it feels like they’re about to be torn off. By breaking commandments I mean anything from breaking the vow of chastity by having relations with a girl, or being suspected of being a spy, or having comic books in your possession … The room where I worked at the time was directly below the Fuji dojo and I could hear these loud screams from above, real shrieks, people yelling, “Kill me! Put me out of my misery!”—the kind of barely human voice wrung out of someone in excruciating pain. Pitiful screams, as if the space there itself was warped and twisted: “Master! Master! Help me!—I’ll never do it again!” When I heard them I just shuddered.
I couldn’t work out what possible point it could have. But what’s weird is that many of the people who were hung upside down like that are still in Aum. They’d suffer, be taken to the edge of death, and then be kindly told “You did well.” And they’d think, “I was able to overcome the trials given to me. Thank you, O Guru!”
Of course if they carried it too far, you’d die. They never told us, but that’s how Naoki Ochi died. Finally they started drug initiation. Everyone thought it was LSD. You had visions and things, but I wasn’t convinced it was a means of reaching salvation. There were rumors about someone dying during training, or someone planning to escape, being caught, and things done to him, but rumors in Aum always remained just that, and there was never any way to confirm them. Our ability to distinguish right from wrong was being eroded.
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