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Excerpts from Crooked Cucumber

On peace and war 

From Crooked Cucumber, chapter eight, Family and Death - 1952-56, pp. 147-149.

Sincere practice means to have sincere concern for people.
Our practice is based on our humanity.


In March of 1954, a fishing boat from Yaizu returned with a crew of critically ill fishermen who had been contaminated with a heavy dose of radioactive fallout from an American hydrogen bomb test on the Bikini atoll, and one of the men had died. Before the crew realized what the problem was, their fish had entered the marketplace. Tons and tons of fish had to be discarded. A general panic seized Japan, and rumors spread that all ocean life had been contaminated. Anti-American rhetoric ran high—this was seen as the third atomic bomb, even worse in a way than the first two, because they had been at war then. The Americans were not apologizing or admitting any wrongdoing. At that time Shunryu became involved in some meetings with Americans and locals. His voice was small, but when he had the chance to talk he encouraged people to calm down. He tried to counter the hysteria and self-righteousness he saw erupting everywhere. To him most of the rhetoric was just a confused political game.

Some saw him as always taking the American side, but when a march was called to protest American nuclear testing, he decided to go. People around the temple told him not to, warning that he would be discredited by being associated with communists. The Japanese Communist Party, a relatively tame organization with members in the Diet, made a big issue of the Bikini incident. Shunryu said he was happy to walk with anyone who opposed nuclear weapons; it didn't have anything to do with political beliefs. It was just a chance to make a small statement for peace. He wasn't an outspoken leader but walked unobtrusively with others, doing what he thought was right.

Masaji Yamada, one of the senior danka of Rinso-in who lived just below the temple, had watched Shunryu carefully through the years. He was from the oldest and most conservative family in the village. Masaji didn't criticize Shunryu for going on the march.

"Everyone knows he is a pacifist," he said, "and especially pro-American at that, but he does not force his views on others. Like So-on, Shunryu-san is a priest as a priest should be. He recites the sutras well and isn't preachy."


Just below Rinso-in at a bend in the creek, right at the spot where Shunryu would stop sweeping the dirt road every morning, a danka family named Yamamura lived in a pristine thatch-roofed farmhouse. Young Masao Yamamura was often out in front of his home, and Shunryu would come over to say hello. It was 1956; Masao was twenty-two.

The young man treasured the opportunity to talk to Shunryu. As a boy he had looked forward to the day when he would be old enough to join Shunryu's post-war program for youth, but that program had ended in 1951. Nevertheless, he felt he was learning a lot from Shunryu in these occasional morning talks. To Masao there was no one else like him.

It was from Shunryu that Masao first heard the word "internationalism." Shunryu told his young friend that the Japanese must learn from their mistakes in the thirties and forties and must help the world get beyond the Cold War. Shunryu didn't say a lot at one time, but he chose his words carefully, and in time they added up.

"We must educate ourselves about the ways and languages of other peoples," Shunryu said one day. "We must think globally and not be limited by national boundaries, in order to achieve world peace."

At times he'd mention his old yearning. "I want to leap the border."

"Why is that?"

"I want to do more with my life than what I'm doing, more than look after the danka here."

"Where would you go?"

"Abroad, maybe to America."

"What do you want to do there?"

"Teach Buddhism, for world peace. If I could do that, my life would be fulfilled."

Masao knew that Shunryu was expressing ideas that he didn't necessarily tell to his family or fellow priests; most people's worldviews were narrow. They, as well as the danka, had faith in him and he in them, but they didn't necessarily know his dreams.

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