Underground the tokyo ga.., p.35
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       Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, p.35

           Haruki Murakami

  MURAKAMI: You said your parents put up the money for your bakery. Do you still get along with them?

  Once I attained liberation I visited my home, and I would call a few times. There was never any talk of disowning me or anything. They told me to come back whenever I could. It’s impossible for me to return to the secular world. If there was something wonderful there, something uplifting, things might change, but right now there isn’t. I could only find that in Aum Shinrikyo.

  My mind did waver at times during the seven or eight years I lived in Aum. When I underwent training, it was like the impurities inside me were welling up to the surface. As you train, you go deeper inside yourself and come face-to-face with your sins, your passions, as they rise up. In ordinary society most people keep these in check by drinking or having a good time, but that’s impossible for those of us in training. We have to confront these things and prevail. It’s very trying. Your heart does waver at times, but as the hesitation subsides you reach a point where you can reaffirm that, “Hey, I can continue my training.” Not once did I seriously consider going back to the secular world.

  The junior high friend of mine who entered at the same time is still in Aum and continuing her training. My eldest brother, who also became a renunciate, went back home just before the gas attack. He decided to start training at home again. Hmm—maybe he lost the battle to the impurities that come out, as I said, when you’re training. If you don’t triumph over these, you’ll never reach liberation.

  “‘If I stay here,’ I thought, ‘I’m going to die’”

  Shin’ichi Hosoi (b. 1965)

  Mr. Hosoi was born in Sapporo. He came to Tokyo to study at art school, hoping to become a cartoonist, but left after six months. While doing odd jobs, he came across Aum Shinrikyo and became a member. He worked in the Aum printing factory, then transferred to the Animation Division, where he could put his cartooning skills to work. Finally he ended up as a welder in the Science and Technology Division. In 1994 he was promoted to Master and was involved in the construction of Satyam No. 7, which housed a chemical plant. He just worked and had very little opportunity to do much training. Even so, he was able to accumulate a lot of practical experience.

  After Aum was raided, he heard a warrant had been issued for his arrest so he turned himself in. After twenty-three days in detention the charges were dropped and he was released. While in detention that June, he posted his official resignation to Aum. He went back to Sapporo for a while but now lives in Tokyo again. During the interview he showed me several illustrations of life in the satyam.

  Now he’s a member of the Canary Association, a group formed by people who have left Aum, and he’s critical of both Aum and Shoko Asahara.

  I didn’t like elementary school. The reason was my older brother was handicapped—autistic—and he attended a special school; kids at my elementary school teased me about this and I had a lot of bad experiences.

  Since I can remember, my mother spent all her time taking care of my brother and hardly paid any attention to me, so I played alone most of the time. I have a vivid memory of the age when I wanted attention and wasn’t able to get any. “Think of your poor brother,” is all I was told. This may have led me to hate my brother.

  I was a pretty gloomy child, I suppose. What really decided this, I think, was when my brother died of hepatitis B. It was a huge shock to me. I was 14. Deep inside I’d always hoped that one day he’d be happy, that in the end he’d be saved. It was a kind of religious image. But reality wasn’t at all like I’d imagined—that the weak would someday be saved.

  Around this time the book The Nostradamus Prophecies was popular. You know—the idea that the human race would vanish in the year 1999. This was happy news to me because I hated the world. It was unfair, and the weak would never be saved. When I thought about the limits of society, the limits of people, it made me even more depressed.

  I wanted to talk to somebody about my feelings, but everyone was too busy studying, or else all they wanted to talk about was cars or baseball. I became a big fan of Katsuhiro Otomo’s [manga] comics, when he still wasn’t that well known. They were so real, so alive to me; the stories themselves were dark, but made me think, “You know, these kinds of things might really come true.” I often copied his work—Sayonara Nippon, Short Peace, Boogie Woogie Waltz, and others.

  I wanted to leave home and go to Tokyo, so after graduating from high school I entered a school called the Chiyoda Industrial Arts School. They offered a major in cartooning. But I left after six months. There always seemed to be a wall separating me from the rest of the world, and coming to Tokyo the wall got higher. People treated me all right, and I got to know quite a few girls. I’d think, “This girl and I will get along okay,” only to find I’d built a wall between us. Classes were fine; my problem was more with people. I just couldn’t get along well with anyone. I went out partying, but drinking and all that didn’t do a thing for me. All the while my dislike of the world grew more intense.

  Now that I look back on it I wonder, “What was all that about?” I finally get the chance to meet a lot of people and what do I do? Drive them away. But I couldn’t help it. So I left and made a living doing part-time jobs. I continued to study cartooning. My parents sent me a small allowance, but being all alone studying when you’re 18 or 19 is hard on you. You’re in a closed-off space and it affects you emotionally. I started to have a phobia about being with people.

  They frightened me. I was convinced they were out to trick me or hurt me. Whenever I saw a happy couple walking down the street, or a family enjoying themselves, all I could think about was that they should all be smashed to smithereens—at the same time I hated myself for having such thoughts.

  I’d left home to escape the depressing atmosphere after my brother died, but couldn’t find any peace no matter where I went. Everywhere was the same, and I grew to loathe the outside world. Leaving my apartment was like entering hell. Finally I ended up with a hygiene fetish. I had to wash my hands as soon as I got home. I’d stand in front of the sink washing my hands for thirty minutes—even an hour—without stopping. I knew I was ill, but I couldn’t stop myself. This went on for two or three years.

  MURAKAMI: I’m surprised you could live that way for so long. It couldn’t have been easy.

  Yeah. I barely spoke to a soul those couple of years. I talked to my family occasionally, or to people at my job, that’s it. I started to sleep longer, over fifteen hours a day. Otherwise I’d feel awful. My stomach bothered me, too. It would hurt all of a sudden. I’d go pale, break out in a sweat, and breathing was difficult. I was scared that if things kept on like this I might die.

  I thought I’d try a dietary cure and yoga to see if they helped. That way I’d be able to get control of my life again. I went to a bookstore and came across Shoko Asahara’s book Beyond Life and Death, which I stood reading for a while. It claimed that kundalini awakening could be attained in three months. I was amazed. “Is that really possible?” I wondered. I’d already read Outline of Theosophy and had some basic knowledge of yoga so I went back to my room and tried it out. Along with the dietary cure I did the training outlined in the book for three months. I’m the type of person who totally concentrates on something and I never missed a day. Four hours a day or so.

  I was less interested in awakening kundalini than in just getting healthy. About two months into it the base of my spine started to vibrate, which is something you experience before kundalini awakening. But I still had my doubts. I felt a strong warmth like boiling water was coiling up my spine to my brain, as if it was wreaking havoc with the insides of my brain, writhing like a living thing. I was dumbfounded. Here was something beyond my control, something incredible happening inside my body. I actually fainted.

  In three months I had reached kundalini awakening, just as Shoko Asahara’s manual had said. So he was absolutely right. That’s when I started to become really interested in Aum. The Aum magazine Mahayana had just published it
s fifth issue, and I bought it and all the back numbers and devoured them. They had photos and personal testimonies from some very appealing, remarkable individuals. If these kinds of people were devoted to him, then the “Revered Master” must be a pretty amazing man.

  What I liked most about the Aum books was that they clearly stated that the world is evil. I was happy when I read that. I’d always thought that the world was unfair and might as well be destroyed, and here it was all laid out in black and white. Instead of simply destroying the world, though, Shoko Asahara said: “If one trains and is liberated, then one can change the world.” I was fired up reading this. “I want to be this man’s disciple and devote myself to him,” I decided. If I could do that, I wouldn’t mind abandoning all the dreams, desires, and hopes of this world.

  MURAKAMI: You say the world is unfair, but in what way?

  Well, things like inborn talent, family background. No matter what the situation, bright people are bright, people who can run fast can run fast. And people who are weak never see the light of day. There’s an element of fate that I thought was too unfair. But in Asahara’s books this is explained as the workings of karma. If in a previous life a person did evil things that’s why he’s suffering now, likewise if a person did good in a previous life that’s why he now lives in such a good environment and is able to make full use of his abilities. I read this and was convinced. It was time for me to avoid evil and start accumulating merit.

  Originally I just planned to use dietary cure and yoga to regain my health and after I got back on my feet I’d return to normal life, but at Aum I found myself developing a Buddhist mind-set completely new to me. One thing I can say is that Aum books helped me get back on my feet when I was in an awful state.

  I think it was December 1988 when I went to the Setagaya dojo, became a member, and was able to talk to one of the enlightened practitioners. He gave me all sorts of advice. He told me I should participate in what they called the “Mad Intensive Training” seminar that took place once a year at the Mt. Fuji headquarters. It’s a pretty radical name, isn’t it? [laughs] You go through this for ten days, they told me, and your training makes tremendous progress, so by all means you should go; the problem was, though, it required a 100,000-yen donation and I didn’t have that kind of money. Also, I wondered whether such rigorous training so soon after joining might not be counterproductive. The head of the training, Tomomitsu Niimi, insisted that I go, and eventually I gave in and went.

  Aum was a small group at one time, with maybe two hundred renunciates. Since it was so small, you were able to meet Shoko Asahara soon after you joined. He was different then, kind of wiry and muscular. Back then he walked with heavy, vigorous strides. You felt something amazing, something awesome in his presence. You could feel this sort of terrifying ability he had to see through everything at a glance. People said, “He’s so gentle,” but when I first met him he scared me.

  I had a chance to do “Secret Yoga” with him, one-on-one, and he told me, “You’re in a serious state of makyo.” That’s the state you reach as your training progresses and spiritual impediments arise. I told him, “In order to progress in my training I’d like to become a renunciate as soon as possible.” “Wait for a while,” he said. “You can’t escape makyo. You need to work at your training in order to free yourself from it.”

  The next time I saw Asahara, he had slipped into the dojo, all smiles, to observe the bhakti [a service held by followers]. When I saw him, I thought: “Wow, this is a man of a thousand faces.” Now he wasn’t frightening at all, he was beaming, and just being near him, watching him, made me ecstatic.

  Three months after joining I was given permission to become a renunciate. When I did “Secret Yoga” with Asahara he said: “You can become a renunciate, but on one condition: leave your part-time job and get a job at a bookbinder’s.” I was pretty surprised. Why a bookbinder’s? “Aum is planning to open a printing factory,” he said, “so I want you to study bookbinding techniques.” “Okay. I understand,” I replied, and straightaway I found a job at a bookbinder’s that included room and board.

  I discovered that there are a lot of different machines in a bookbinding plant: folders, binders, cutting machines … I had no idea where to begin or how much I should learn. He’d simply said, “Study bookbinding.” Anyway, I did my best to absorb everything I could. On Sundays, when the factory was deserted, I studied how the machines were constructed. I don’t have much of a technical background, but I soon worked out which buttons to push and how certain parts fit together. I wasn’t allowed to operate the machines, but I picked up a lot just by keeping my eyes open. After working there for three months I was instructed to become a renunciate. I packed my bags and left the factory for good.

  Once you take vows, you can’t eat the things you like—ice cream and so on. That was a bit tough for me. Food, rather than sex, was hardest for me to overcome. The night before I became a renunciate I ate and drank everything I could lay my hands on, because it was my last chance.

  My parents were dead set against it, but I truly believed that my becoming a renunciate would, in the final analysis, be a blessing to them, so I didn’t worry much about what they said. Originally in order to be a certified samana [renunciate] you have to donate 1.2 million yen and finish six hundred hours of standing worship, but as they were rushing to get the bookbinding plant up and running, they made an exception for me.

  About an hour’s drive from the Mt. Fuji headquarters was a place called Kariyado. The printing plant was a small prefab building. I was astounded to learn that I was the only one who had any background in bookbinding. I’d expected just to be a staff member of a team, but here I was a brand-new renunciate in charge of bookbinding. I couldn’t believe it. There were anywhere from ten to twenty people assigned to bookbinding, ten to printing, and about twenty to photoengraving. It was a fairly large-scale operation.

  The machines they’d purchased, however, were pieces of junk that had been sitting in a warehouse somewhere for decades. Everyone complained about it. All the machines were like antiques on their last legs. Just to get them up and running was a major task. I wasn’t all that up to speed on these machines to begin with, so it took three months from the time we got them to the time they were operational. Even after that some of them didn’t run well. I think we did a good job, considering.

  The first thing we printed and bound was the twenty-third issue of Mahayana. Until then all Aum’s publications had been contracted out to other printers, but now we could just about print them ourselves.

  One thing that really surprised me was that after I became a renunciate there was no time set aside for us to do our ascetic training. I asked one of my superiors why and according to him you can’t make progress until you accumulate merit, and I was at the stage where I should just work and build up merit. So I worked for a whole year in the bookbinding plant. Every day was tough. We’d snatch just four hours of sleep a night, especially during the elections—that was draining. I was in charge of the folding machine. We kept the machines running even when we went to the toilet. Every second counted.

  After the election there were fewer print jobs. We had a lot of time on our hands. Things were in an uproar at Naminomura, but for those of us at the printing plant, the days were peaceful.

  When we didn’t have work to do we were free to train. During this period our leader was off somewhere else and we had a pretty laid-back attitude toward things.

  In the beginning if I wasn’t around the machines ground to a halt; after a time, though, everyone was able to operate them, so I asked the higher-ups for a transfer. You weren’t supposed to ask for a transfer, but since I had training as a cartoonist I used some leftover paper and created a twenty-page comic-book version of the Jataka sutra. I completed three of these books and showed them to my superiors. I attached a letter saying, “I have this training as a cartoonist, and if it can be put to use for liberation purposes, I would like to be transferred.”
  I didn’t expect anything to come of it. No one else acted this self-centeredly and I was sure they’d just ignore it, but I was surprised to get a phone call from the General Affairs office telling me to report the next day to the Design Division. There was a Cartooning Section there, but with only one person assigned to it; before long, however, there was a plan to create an Aum-produced operetta that would include animation, so they hurriedly assembled followers who could draw to help out. There were about twenty to thirty people, and later I was appointed head of the Animation Division.

  We had some really talented people in our group, but the biggest help was that one of the samana had worked as an assistant cameraman at an animation studio. We formed teams and produced quite a lot of cartoons. I worked there for three years altogether. Looking back on it, those years were a very peaceful time for me.

  I say things were calm, but actually human relations within the group were fragmented. Usually a leader of a division holds the rank of Master but I was just a swami, a lower rank. I felt pressure from above, at the same time as my subordinates tried to win me over to their viewpoints, so it wasn’t easy. For example, in order to study the techniques we had to watch ordinary cartoons, but our leaders said we couldn’t. But I had to watch some of them. People would confront me, saying: “The Master forbade this, so why are you watching it?” In other words, our Animation Division was split into two factions: one gave priority to improving the quality of our work, the other gave priority to our training. It got harder and harder to get things done.

  Relations between the sexes weren’t easy, either. There were many cases of men and women getting too close and running off with each other, so Asahara warned in his sermons: “Female samana are not to approach men. Don’t just keep your distance, but detest them.” I was often singled out for criticism. At any rate it was a pretty brutal atmosphere.

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