Underground the tokyo ga.., p.33
Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, p.33Haruki Murakami
There were rumors, too, that spies had infiltrated Aum, and they used lie detectors to try to root them out. They called this an initiation, too, and everyone in Aum had to take a lie-detector test. I thought it was strange, because wouldn’t the guru, who was supposed to know everything, be able to tell at a glance who the spies were? Aside from this I was once questioned about my best friend, who’d been placed in solitary confinement. I was given a polygraph test and asked all sorts of questions, including some unpleasant ones I couldn’t accept. Afterward I asked the higher-ups, “Why do you have to ask such things? They’re pointless.” They were obscene questions that dealt with personal, private matters. Learning the answers wasn’t going to get them anywhere. But I must have annoyed the higher-ups. Right afterward Tomomitsu Niimi told me: “You’re being transferred. Pack your things now.” I was put in solitary confinement. I asked him why, but he didn’t answer. That’s when I began to wonder what was going on. Training was supposed to be all about reaching salvation, but now it had become a form of punishment.
The solitary-confinement cell was the size of one tatami mat. The door was locked. It was summer, hot all the time, but they had a heater going. I was forced to drink gallons of a special Aum drink in a plastic bottle and sweat it out in the heat. Like they were trying to rid me of something bad. Of course I couldn’t take a bath and the grime dripped off me. No toilet, just a chamber pot inside my cell. My head zoned out and I couldn’t think straight.
MURAKAMI: It’s amazing you didn’t die.
It would have been easier if I had, and frankly at the time I think I really wanted to. But you know, when people are put in situations like that they prove remarkably resilient. Most of the people in solitary were wavering in their faith or were no longer useful to Aum. We had no idea when they would let us out. So I told myself, “Okay, I’ll use this to my advantage to do some serious training.” Keep on complaining and you’ll never get out. The only thing to do was think positively, put up with it, then move on.
Part of our daily training consisted of an initiation called Bardo Leading. They’d take you to another room, blindfold you, handcuff your hands behind you, and make you sit up straight. Then they’d bang on a drum, ring a brass bell, and scream in a loud, crazed voice something like “Train! Train! There’s no turning back, so we have to do our best!”
One day, though, when they took me over, I was suddenly pinned down by Siha [Takashi Tomita] and Satoru Hashimoto, and Niimi plugged up my nose and mouth. I couldn’t breathe. “You think your superiors are fools, don’t you?” they asked me. They were trying to kill me, but I used all my strength and was able to break free. “I’ve been doing my damnedest,” I shouted, “so why are you doing this to me?” Things settled down after that and I was able to go back to my cell, but I felt I was finished with Aum. How could they treat me like this, I thought, when I was doing my best?
Later I underwent what they called “Christ Initiation” a number of times. This was like an experiment using human beings. Whenever Niimi gave me drugs to take he looked at me like I was a guinea pig. “Drink it!” he said, his voice cold and detached. I saw Jivaka [Seiichi Endo] and Vajira Tissa [Tomomasa Nakagawa] come by to check out the solitary cells. My mind was messed up because of the drugs, but I recall that quite clearly. They came to see our reaction to the drugs. I realized that the people in solitary were being used in drug experiments. We weren’t worth much to them alive, so they must have thought that using us in human experiments was the only way we’d build up spiritual merit. That made me ponder long and hard where fate had led me.
“Can I just die like this?” I wondered. “A guinea pig in a human experiment? If that’s my fate then the only way out is to return to the secular world. This is too inhuman, too terrible …” I was shocked, wondering where Aum had gone wrong.
After the drug initiation everyone was dead tired, so the door was left open for a time. I wasn’t too zonked out by then so I prepared a change of clothes and after making sure the coast was clear, dressed and crept out of the building. There were guards, but I managed to give them the slip.
[Mr. Masutani borrowed the bus fare from someone he bumped into on the street and returned to his parents’ home in Tokyo. A few months after his escape he learned that he had been excommunicated. The reasons given for this, he says, are groundless.]
So that’s how I went back to living in the secular world—not because I wanted to live an ordinary life, but because I couldn’t follow Aum any longer. The truth is I had nowhere else to go, so I went back to living with my parents. My family was so happy and said, “Thank goodness you’re back!” but since I’d lived five years already with no emotional attachments to them it just didn’t feel like a family anymore. I could never be satisfied with ordinary life; my parents couldn’t understand this, however, so it all fell apart. We began to fight and I moved out.
MURAKAMI: Before that, in March 1995, there was the gas attack. What are your feelings about that?
At first I didn’t think Aum had done it. They preached about Vajrayana Tantra, of course, and the atmosphere within Aum had taken a bizarre turn, but I couldn’t imagine they’d go so far as to use sarin. We’re talking about a group that wouldn’t even kill a cockroach. When I was still in Aum I often heard from the staff how the Ministry of Science and Technology had made some comical blunder, so I couldn’t imagine them carrying out something this complex. The media reported it as definitely the work of Aum, but Aum and Fumihiro Joyu denied any connection with it. At first I was inclined to believe them. As the investigation continued, though, some facts emerged that contradicted Aum’s claims, and I had my doubts. I reread my diary and it seems that it was around August of that year  that I began to feel alienated from Aum. After that I was convinced that Aum carried out the attack.
Although I ran away from Aum because I could no longer agree with it or carry out its wishes, I couldn’t readjust to secular life. Aum’s stance of trying to overcome worldly attachments still struck me as more laudable than ordinary society. I began to reconsider what Aum—which I had devoted myself to—was all about. Trying to establish what was good about it, and what was wrong.
After leaving home I worked in a convenience store and did part-time jobs to get by. I stay in touch with my friends from Aum days, and we get together. Some of them still fully support Aum, and some admit that the gas attack was wrong, but think Aum doctrine is still sound. As many viewpoints as there are people. Even so, there are very few who have severed all ties to Aum and are living according to secular values.
I have no more interest in Aum, and am leaning now toward primitive Buddhism. All the people who’ve left Aum have incorporated some religious aspect into their lives.
MURAKAMI: Of course, the individual is free to try to overcome desires and attachments and so on, but from an objective point of view it seems extremely dangerous to allow another, a guru, to take control of your own ego. Are there still many believers or ex-believers who don’t recognize this?
I don’t think many have thought about it properly. Gautama Buddha said, “The Self is the true master of the Self” and “Keep the Self an island, approaching nothing.” In other words, Buddhist disciples practice asceticism in order to find the true Self. They find impurities and attachments, and attempt to extinguish these. But what Mr. Matsumoto [Asahara] did was equate “Self” and “attachments.” He said that in order to get rid of the ego, the Self must be disposed of as well. Humans love the “Self,” so they suffer, and if the “Self” can be discarded then a shining true Self will emerge. But this is a complete reversal of Buddhist teachings. The Self is what should be discovered, not discarded. Terrorist crimes like the gas attack result from this process of easily giving up on the Self. If the Self is lost, then people will become completely insensitive to murder and terrorism.
In the final analysis, Aum created people who had discarded their Selves and just followed orders. Therefore enlightened practitioners in Aum, t
I don’t believe that Mr. Matsumoto [Asahara] gradually turned strange. He had those ideas in mind from the start. What he did was push them forward in stages.
MURAKAMI: So from the beginning he had the pian to go in the direction of Vajrayana Tantra? It wasn’t that somewhere along the way he became deluded and the direction of Aum changed?
There’s some truth in both. One element was there from the start, and as he surrounded himself with yes-men his sense of reality faded and delusions took over.
However, I think that, in his own way, Asahara was seriously considering the question of salvation. Otherwise, no one would have renounced the world to follow him. To some extent there was something mystical about it all. The same thing holds true for me—yoga and ascetic practice led to some mystical experiences.
MURAKAMI: Now Aum is attempting to continue with the same doctrines—minus Shoko Asahara and the Vajrayana Tantra. How do you feel about that?
Since nothing about Aum has changed, there’s a distinct danger that new crimes will occur—maybe not soon, but eventually. Also, people who remain in Aum have accepted the gas attack on a subconscious level, so they’re not aware of the dangers of carrying on the same teachings. All they think about are the good points of Aum and the benefits they’ve received.
When I think about the victims of the gas attack and those colleagues of mine who were directly involved in carrying out the crime, I want to grab the people who still believe in Aum and shout at them: “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”—but they’d probably just withdraw deeper into their shells. All we can do is slowly show them the truth and make them aware of it.
How I can come to terms with the secular world is a difficult question. I’ve had enough of belonging to organizations—I just want to try to make it on my own. A part of me wants to extinguish the desires within me, but all I can do now is take one step at a time under my own steam.
MURAKAMI: Since you were a freshman in college you spent at least seven years in Aum. Do you feel like that time was lost to you?
No, I don’t. A mistake is a mistake, but something of value comes from overcoming that. It can be a turning point in your life.
Some former Aum members have completely discarded the Aum experience and don’t read the papers or watch any reports on it. They close their eyes to it, but that doesn’t help you learn anything from your mistakes. It’s like when you do badly in a test and you really examine where you went wrong. If you don’t, the next time you’ll make the very same mistake.
“In my previous life I was a man”
Miyuki Kanda (b. 1973)
Ms. Kanda was drawn to mystical things as a little girl. When she was 16 she read a book by Shoko Asahara and was so moved that she and her two elder brothers all joined Aum together. To concentrate on her ascetic training she left high school and took vows.
Talking to her, I could understand how Aum Shinrikyo was a kind of ideal place. She clearly found ascetic life far more fulfilling than living in ordinary society, where she could find nothing of any spiritual value. Aum was a kind of paradise.
Of course one could view a case like hers—a 16-year-old girl raised in Aum—as a kind of abduction or brainwashing, but I tend to feel, more and more, that having people like her in the world isn’t such a bad thing after all. Not everybody has to line up with everybody else, jostling shoulder to shoulder, struggling to make a go of it in “this world,” do they? Why shouldn’t a few people be able to think deeply about things that aren’t directly relevant to society? The problem lies in the fact that Aum Shinrikyo was one of the few havens for such people, and in the end it turned out to be corrupt. Paradise was an illusion.
As we said goodbye I asked her if talking with someone from “this world” for so long would cause some uncleanliness to rub off on her. Perplexed for a moment, she replied, “Logically, that’s true.” She’s a very serious person. She offered me homemade bread, which was light and delicious.
Ever since I was little I’ve had mystical experiences. For instance, when I dreamed it was no different from reality. I’d call them stories rather than dreams—they were long and distinct, and after I woke up I could remember every detail. In my dreams I visited all sorts of worlds, had astral-projection-type experiences. I had them over and over, almost every day. In astral projection your body is fixed, your breathing stops, and you can fly. This happened most when I was very tired.
It was different from what you usually call dreams. Everything was extremely realistic. It would have been easier if you could make a clear-cut distinction, and say, “Okay, this is a dream and isn’t the same as reality,” but things very much like those in reality appeared in my dreams and confused me. “Is this reality? Or isn’t it?” Gradually I couldn’t distinguish between the two, or maybe I should say that my dreams became more real than reality. This bothered me. “So what is reality?” I asked myself. “Where is my true consciousness?”
These experiences influenced me a lot. I talked to my parents about them, but they couldn’t understand what I was trying to say. I was a bit on the introverted side, but I had friends and went to school like everyone else. I wasn’t particularly fond of school, though I worked hard at subjects I enjoyed. I loved to read, too, especially science fiction and fantasy. I read a lot of comics and watched cartoons. Math I was terrible at, and I didn’t like sports very much.
My mother often told me: “Study! If you study you’ll get into a good school and find a good job.” The usual things parents say. To tell the truth, I just wasn’t that concerned with school. I couldn’t see the point. My dreams continued. I had all sorts of experiences, and passed through different worlds. It was fun for a time, but it never lasted. It always ended up falling apart. I experienced wars, where lots of people were killed. I felt how fearful death is, and a deep sadness that those around me had died. I realized that this world is impermanent, nothing lasts forever, and suffering is the result of this impermanence.
MURAKAMI: In other words you experienced “another life,” and you arrived at this conclusion after these emotionally charged experiences in a parallel world?
That’s right. I’d never experienced the actual death of anybody close to me, but when I saw people on TV who were sick and dying I realized, “Oh, the real world is impermanent, as well. The same kind of suffering is here, too.” That’s how my dreams and the real world were connected.
I went to a public high school in Kanagawa. Everyone talked about boys, love, fashion, where the best karaoke boxes were, and so on. I couldn’t see any value in this, so I was always left out.
I spent most of my time alone, reading. I wrote things too. Since my dreams were narratives, I felt as if I only had to write them down and they’d become a book. Don’t some writers do that—get an idea from their dreams and write their fiction based on it?
I didn’t really want a boyfriend. When girls around me found boyfriends, I never felt envious. I couldn’t see the point.
When I was 16 my brother lent me some Aum books, saying they were pretty good. I think the first ones were Beyond Life and Death, Initiation, and Mahayana Sutra. When I read them I thought, “This is exactly what I’ve been looking for!” I couldn’t wait to join.
The books explained how the path to true happiness lay in being liberated. Once liberated, you will gain eternal happiness. For instance, even if in my life I feel happy, it won’t last—but how wonderful it would be if happiness could last forever. Not just for me, but for everybody. In that sense I was quite taken with the word “liberation.”
MURAKAMI: What exactly do you mean by the word “happiness”?
For instance, the happy feelings you have when you’re chatting about all kinds of things with your friends or talking with your family. For
If you ask what liberation, or enlightenment, means to me, I’d have to say that first there is suffering, and liberation is simply the end of suffering. When you reach liberation you are freed from the sufferings of this impermanent world. The books described some practical ascetic training you could do to help you reach liberation, so before I joined Aum I tried this for myself. I’d read the books at home and do asana [yoga] and breathing exercises every day.
My two brothers were attracted to Aum and said they wanted to join. The three of us had similar ways of thinking. My oldest brother experienced almost the same sortsof dreams, though his weren’t as intense.
So the three of us set off for the Setagaya dojo and asked the person at the reception desk for membership applications. We planned from the start to join so we started to fill in our names and addresses, but they said they’d like to talk to us first and led us inside, where we talked with the Master of the dojo. When he asked our motives for joining, all of us said, “Enlightenment and liberation,” which really surprised him. Apparently most people say they want to join to improve their situation in the world or gain supernatural powers and stuff like that.
The Master talked with us about many things, but what I felt most was a great—how shall I put it?—sense of calm, as if the air itself exuded peace. All three of us joined that day. The entrance fee, which included six months of fees, came to 30,000 yen each. I didn’t have enough with me, so I borrowed some from my brothers.
MURAKAMI: Didn’t your parents have something to say about all three of you joining Aum Shinrikyo at once?
They did. At that time there wasn’t a big stir about Aum, so we just told them it was like a yoga study center. There were some problems later, though, when there were all sorts of rumors about Aum.
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