Notes on Crooked Cucumber - Ch. 7
When you look at human life carefully, you will find out
how important it is to become a trustworthy person.
The American soldiers came and proved not to be devils. The Japanese forces were allowed to disarm themselves, and the Japanese civil authorities were given the power to administer the nation under the watchful eye of GHQ, General Headquarters, the American army of occupation.
But there was a new war: the enemy now was starvation. Food was scarcer than ever, and the harvest had been poor. Temple life was just as hard as in the days of Haibutsu Kishaku, the nineteenth-century persecution of the Buddhists, except now everyone suffered.
One morning a neighbor came to Rinso-in to help out in the kitchen. Shunryu brought in some vegetables from the garden, and there was seaweed and miso for soup, but when the woman opened the large temple rice box she gasped. It was empty. Her family didn't have much either, but she ran down the hill, took half of what they had, and gave it to the temple. Soon all the neighbors and members of Rinso-in heard that the temple was in need, and the rice box filled up.
The homeless, the jobless, and the hungry were wandering the roads, and some found their way to Rinso-in. Shunryu would see them coming and tell Chie, "Look after them." She would share what they had--cooked rice, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, cucumbers--and admonish them to go find work and take care of themselves. Just as Chie was giving it away, some old woman with a bag of rice would come down the mountainside to make an offering to the temple. The temple rice box had a life of its own.
[Note - SR talking about giving their rice away and getting more in return]
As he walked to Rinso-in, Taro Kato collected locusts and strung them together with needle and thread. At Rinso-in he cooked them with soy sauce. He had been living in the temple quite a bit since his Manchurian dream had been crushed. He had held on to hope for a while, and had even sent his belongings ahead. He figured they had reached Hiroshima when the bomb dropped. His parents, seeing him dejected and directionless, had sent him to be with Shunryu.
Taro suggested that his father could easily get Shunryu a government job, which would provide money to buy food and to pay off some of the temple's debts. But Shunryu would not consider such a thing. A number of priests were working to support their temples and families, going off in Western suits and shined shoes, but not he. He was testing Dogen's teaching. Dogen had said that when we are supported firmly from within, external support follows. Every morning in Soto temples a priest chanted a brief *dedication that included the line, "*May the two wheels of the temple gate turn smoothly forever." The two wheels of the temple are the dharma wheel and the economic wheel. Dogen said that the former turned the latter, so if the temple went broke or the people starved, it would likely be because their dharma was weak.
Japan and Dogen's hypothesis got a nudge of support from America when shiploads of food started to arrive at the docks, feeding the faithless and faithful alike. Among the foodstuffs were powdered milk, which was a curious drink, and hard dried fruit. Chie encouraged her children to eat this strange food by telling them things like, "Prunes make you beautiful."
Chie was nursing the last of their children, a son named Otohiro, and she nursed a neighbor's baby as well. It was Yasuko's job to go get the other baby several times a day from the milkless mother and bring it home. People would tell her on the way what a wonderful, generous woman her mother was.
So the early days of the occupation passed, and the nation was grateful to the victors for their magnanimity. People weren't being rounded up and shot, they had their emperor and their own government, there were shiploads of food, and, in general, the militarists had been exposed for their great lies and barbarism. Indeed, the whole world had been turned upside down: everything was the opposite of what they'd been taught for decades. [Note - many old Japanese told me this]
In Tokyo at least five members of the High Grass Mountain Group were now working with the new government. Masao Nishinakama was involved in negotiations with the Americans and was said to have pushed successfully to see that Japan was not required to pay reparations to countries it had occupied and fought with. Others, including Masao's little brother *Shigeo, were involved in economic planning and national policy making.
Shunryu was deeply committed to the reinvigoration of a wounded Japan, not only through Buddhism but also by general education. He still had the certificate he had received from Komazawa University to teach English and to be an ethical guide to youth. But there was a purge going on, and he felt in some danger of losing his certification and being ostracized from any public duty beyond his immediate priestly tasks. This purge was far reaching; all leaders, teachers, and priests were being examined by GHQ and the new Japanese authorities to determine if they had actively supported the war, nationalism, and fascism through speaking or writing. On October 30, 1945, they issued an *Order of Investigation, Expulsion or Approval for Teachers and Educators, and on January 4, 1946, *Notification on the Expulsion of Unfavorable Individuals from the Public Occupations.
Priests were needed to be teachers, as there was a shortage of college graduates after the war, but they had to pass this scrutiny, and GHQ deemed them guilty unless proven innocent. The Shinto priests were obvious targets, and most of them were excluded, but Buddhist priests were suspect as well. Some had been enthusiastic supporters of the military, some had become officers, and others had gone on lecture tours promoting militaristic imperial Buddhism. All religious institutions, including Christian ones, had supported the military. The official policy of both Soto and Rinzai Zen had been to subordinate Buddhism to the war effort. [Note - Imperial Buddhism with Emperor above Buddha]
Shunryu knew he had several possible strikes against him. One was that his temple had housed military personnel and Korean slave labor. Another was that before the Pacific war he had, for one day, headed that new organization to promote public support for government policies. The third strike was his trip to occupied Manchuria, which could be seen as participation in Japan's imperialism. In his favor, there was sympathy now for those who spoke and taught English. He hadn't worn the military-style uniform of the day. There were the meetings he'd held. And he had saved a stack of papers at Rinso-in that documented his lack of support for the madness. [Papers he'd handed out]
Suetsune-san of the High Grass Mountain Group showed up at Rinso-in one day to find Shunryu laboring over a questionnaire from GHQ. Suetsune's English was good, and they stayed up all night working on it. On another occasion Shunryu had to go see Japanese authorities in Shizuoka; he brought his papers to that meeting as well.
The purge did not turn into a mindless witch-hunt; reason seemed to be prevailing. All Japanese had cooperated with the war effort whether they wanted to or not. Practically every noncombatant, including women, had gone to evening meetings where they'd practiced lunging with pointed bamboo spears, preparing to kill the paratroopers as they landed and charge the invaders on the beaches. Officers at GHQ knew the situation was complex, and they left most of the nuts and bolts of the purge to the Japanese authorities. They were just looking for those who had been vocal and committed, and Shunryu definitely did not fit that description. But more than eighty-three thousand people were subject to the purge through the summer of 1952.
Wherever you go, if you have a flexible attitude
you can help people quite easily.
On December 31, 1945, the temple was buzzing with enthusiastic preparation for the New Year. Tori's family was back in Tokyo. Chie's mother, *Kinu Muramatsu, had moved in, and she, her daughter, and a group of danka wives were making the best meal they could come up with. In the buddha hall, cards were passed out for people to chant a chapter of the *Prajna Paramita Sutra. All night mochi was pounded, sake was sipped, and songs were sung. All week long they had cleaned the temple and thrown away what was worn out and not of use--Miss Ransom's chair, which the children had jumped on till it was beyond repair, old newspapers, magazines, and some offensive wartime books.
It was a time to pay debts, and with the help of the danka the family paid off what they could. They decorated and made offerings at the altar. This was New Year celebrated as it hadn't been for a long time. People were still depressed from the war, but Shunryu felt this week of rejuvenation would help lift them up together.
In 1946 Shunryu established the *Takakusa-juku, a study group for young men and women in their late teens and early twenties. It was considered to be part of the *New-Life-after-the-War-Movement. Local townsfolk and families from Shizuoka and Tokyo also sent their youth to Rinso-in. They sat zazen and chanted, Shunryu gave talks, and there were discussions. Taro Kato attended. Shunryu didn't have to censor himself anymore, but he was still not an absolutist. "This may be right, but this may also be wrong," he would say. A neighbor, twelve-year-old *Masao Yamamura, too young to attend, would hide outside the shoji and listen to the exciting new ideas being discussed. He heard Shunryu say passionately that the war had been a big mistake and that people should open their eyes to the world. [Note - link to his interview]
Now what Shunryu said was in harmony with the mood of the nation and even with GHQ. MacArthur himself said that war could only be eliminated with a spiritual awakening. Many Japanese felt a deep shame for the course their people had followed and vowed that their nation would never again resort to force except in self-defense. Indeed, it would be written into their new constitution. Shunryu noticed that since they had lost the war the Japanese people had dropped a great deal of their national arrogance and had more of a sense of the contradictions within their own culture. Many felt they had lost their way, but to Shunryu the new humility and insecurity were better. Now they were more skeptical and sensed, at least theoretically, the emptiness of all existence. They saw that their traditions were always changing and not set in stone.
Shunryu thought that the best way he could alleviate the pain in people's minds would be to promote Buddha's dharma and Kishizawa's teaching. In March of 1947 he organized a *lay ordination at Rinso-in for four hundred people, mostly women, in which they received precepts and Buddhist names, and rededicated themselves to following Buddhist principles. It was presided over by Kishizawa, who gave lectures, and people came from all over Japan to hear him. The ceremony took one week--a sort of modified sesshin. There wasn't enough rice, so barley was mixed with it. Sugiyama, the abbot from nearby Zuioji who had been helping out at Rinso-in since 1937, was in charge of the cooking. He and Chie worked together and got along well; he had been her father's attendant when she was a young girl. It was said he purposely burned the rice so there would be something for the kitchen workers to eat--the charred grains on the bottom. Otherwise there might have been nothing left for them.
At the ceremony was a disciple of Kishizawa's named *Kojun Noiri. He was ten years younger than Shunryu and admired him greatly. In the most important part of the closing ceremony on the last day, Kishizawa stopped the proceedings and, in front of all present, criticized Shunryu for offering incense at the wrong point in the proceedings. It was clear to Noiri that Kishizawa was speaking to everyone through scolding Shunryu; he wanted to do it in the most dramatic way possible. To Noiri, Shunryu gracefully accepted his position as representative of the whole group and, without any sign of anger or embarrassment, bowed respectfully to his teacher. He said that this illustrated that Shunryu and Kishizawa had the proper student-teacher relationship, that Shunryu had been strong enough to take on this role and had confirmed Kishizawa's confidence in him.
Noiri described another large lay ordination led by Kishizawa at *Jokoji, a prominent temple in Shizuoka Prefecture. Since Jokoji was a branch temple of Rinso-in, Shunryu had to step forward at one point in the ceremony as a leader among many older and more experienced priests. Noiri was struck by Shunryu's bearing, by the way he carried himself, moved, and handled his bowing cloth. His tempo was just right. Noiri felt that that kind of perfection could not have been achieved in one lifetime. Other priests did not necessarily notice these things about Shunryu.
Noiri saw a profound stillness in Shunryu. He had strongly felt this stillness once at Yaizu station where they had passed each other. Shunryu just greeted Noiri and went on. As he watched Shunryu go up the stairs to the platform, Noiri had the undeniable experience of his calmness and humility.
In that brief greeting, Noiri felt contact, an active presence. Noiri had just published a book about some of Dogen's writings and was dashing past Shunryu. The contrast was striking. In Shunryu's greeting, he perceived a kind of *gokurosama, an appreciation for his work, not congratulating but encouraging him. As Noiri watched Shunryu walk slowly up the stairs he was left with a wonderful image.
So-on had done the major restoration work on the Rinso-in zendo long ago, and now it was finally finished, appointed with new shoji, tatami that smelled of the fields, and a statue of *Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom. On June 3, 1947, there was a well-attended opening ceremony for this new zendo, a ceremony that affected the status of the temple. Now the Soto organization recognized Rinso-in as a temple with a self-supporting zendo. It was Shunryu's decision not to have a zendo supported by the Soto organization, since such support would include financial and other obligations on Rinso-in's part.
Shunryu had two monks living with him at the time. Now they, his lay students, and the monthly zazenkai had a room just for zazen. Shunryu wanted Rinso-in's zendo to be well used, but his enthusiasm for zazen did not receive any sustained response. He would rather have had lots of people at zazen and very few show up at the opening. He could accept the decline of prestige of the priesthood, but the lack of interest in actual Buddhist practice was discouraging.
After the war the position of priests in society changed radically. The temples were forced by the government to sell off land for practically nothing, especially land that others were working. Rinso-in was no longer a landlord to the farmers below, though it kept the forest land on the mountain. This meant that the temple had to depend on its membership for support to a far greater extent. With civilian control of the army came greater lay control of the temples.
Shunryu had been a benevolent landlord, with a friendlier relationship with the farmers than untrusting So-on had had. He was sorry to see the land go but continued to believe in Dogen's teaching that a priest need only follow Buddha's way in order to be supported. Buddhism represented one of the last vestiges of feudalism, and the GHQ and new government had put an end to that. As a result, temples became corporations. The farmers who had had almost nothing were able to buy land cheaply. It was said that the head of the ogre had been cut off.
There is no fixed moral code or standard,
but you find yours when you try to teach others.
*Mitsu Matsuno was head of a residential kindergarten for the children of war widows in Shizuoka, the capital of the prefecture about thirty miles from Yaizu. On one side of the school was a dorm for the children and on the other side were their mothers. Mitsu lived with her twelve-year-old daughter, *Harumi, in a room on the children's side. She was an intelligent, energetic woman with a round face and fair complexion. On a simmering summer day in 1949 she was returning to work when she unexpectedly discovered an old friend sitting on the hallway floor, eating a box lunch with a handsome monk in his mid-forties. "What brings you here, *Tsuneko-san?" she asked.
"I've come to introduce you to this monk."
"And is this esteemed monk looking for a wife?" she teased, without the sort of respect women customarily showed to priests.
"No, no, Hojo-san has a fine wife," Tsuneko managed to say as she bent over laughing.
"Is that so?" Mitsu continued. "Then what is it you want of me?"
"He has opened a kindergarten and hasn't found a head teacher to manage it. My father recommended you, so we came here. I'm sorry we didn't let you know beforehand."
"I risked my life to get the children here into bomb shelters time after time during the war. The whole city burned down but we lived. After all I've done to keep it open in these difficult times, you want me to leave? I can't do that. I've resolved to spend the rest of my life here."
Shunryu had expedited the reopening of a Buddhist kindergarten in Yaizu that had been closed during the last year of the war and used by the army. It had been empty for three years, and neighbors were growing potatoes in the playground. Originally Shunryu had asked the Yaizu Buddhist Council to get the kindergarten reopened. They agreed it was a good idea and asked him to please take care of it. Called *Tokiwa Kindergarten, it was the oldest such school in the prefecture. The priest who had founded it in 1924, *Aoshima Zen'an, was now eighty and the abbot of a small neighboring branch temple of Rinso-in. Shunryu had known his kindergarten and sympathized with Zen'an's philosophy of Buddhist education; his emphasis wasn't on curriculum as much as on attitude--strict yet gentle.
Shunryu encouraged Zen'an to get the school going again and agreed to become involved, as Zen'an was too old to do the legwork. All over Japan priests were opening preschools, and Shunryu was glad to take part in this trend. It was another way to help reinvigorate his community, which was still weary and recuperating from the war.
Zen'an advised Shunryu about education and about getting the school reopened. Shunryu visited other Buddhist kindergartens, subscribed to a magazine on Buddhist education, gathered support from businessmen including godfather Amano, formed a board, and sought out teachers from among the daughters of the danka of Rinso-in and his young women students. He saw to the restoration of the building, dealt with the local government, got it licensed, and put the word out. It opened on May 5, *Children's Day, 1949, with all classes full and Zen'an as principal. [Note - was it Children's day by then or still Boy's day?]
Soon after it opened Zen'an died, and Shunryu needed to find a qualified principal. Shunryu's well-connected friend Isobe in Shizuoka told him about Mitsu, and got his daughter Tsuneko to make the connection. But Mitsu turned him down. Shunryu was struck with her straightforwardness and decided not to give up on her.
Mitsu saw Shunryu walking up to her school on the sidewalk, clattering in his wooden geta with white socks, shading himself from the sun with a black bamboo monk's hat and a monk's large black lacquered paper umbrella. That funny priest is back, she thought, looking at him. After Shunryu greeted her, she said, "I hate the idea of moving second only to dying."
A few days later he came again and she told him not to wear that strange flapping hat because it looked like a witch's hat and scared the children. He returned next time without the hat and she said she was too busy to see him. He kept coming every few days.
One day she told Shunryu, "I think you don't know that I'm a Christian. It would be inappropriate for me to run a Buddhist school."
"That's better than having no religion at all," he answered firmly.
"Go find a good Buddhist principal," she said.
On another visit she said, "I don't know anyone in Yaizu, but I think it is an ugly city full of fishermen--it even smells like fish. I've never wanted to go back there."
"My temple has no fishermen. The members there all smell like farmers, bureaucrats, and businessmen."
Every few days he'd show up and each time she'd rebuke him in one way or another. He even sent Chie over with fruit wrapped in colorful cloth. After a couple of months and a lot of train trips, Shunryu said to Mitsu, "There are some people I'd like you to meet in Yaizu, that city you detest so much. Why don't you just come once to visit?"
Shunryu met Mitsu at her school the next day and escorted her to a large home where a doctor named *Ozawa lived with his family. He and his wife greeted Mitsu and served tea. Mitsu found them to be sophisticated and gracious. They were intellectuals; his wife taught *koto (a stringed instrument), which Mitsu too had studied. It worried her: they would be hard to turn down. The doctor implored her to come take over the school.
She explained her responsibilities in Shizuoka. "*Isobe will take care of that," the doctor said, referring to the man who had originally recommended her to Shunryu. "He has clout at the prefectural office."
She protested that she was unqualified to run this historically prominent school.
He gave her a piercing glance and said, "You don't have to be so brilliant. All you'd have to do is show up and stand there."
Mitsu felt as if a bolt of lightning had struck her, simultaneously burning away her feelings of conceit and unworthiness. "Then I only need to be there, standing and doing nothing? That's all?"
"Yes, that's right. Just stand there and do nothing."
"I'll do it then," she said.
Mitsu found a replacement for her former position, went right to work as the acting principal at Tokiwa, and moved into Rinso-in with her daughter Harumi. She started to attend temple services and soon found out that Shunryu was well thought of by his congregation. She admired Chie and got along with Chie's mother, Kinu, called *Obaa-san, grandmother. She took Obaa-san on as a sort of new mother, as hers had died when she was eleven and her mother-in-law had died just after the war. After a month she and her daughter moved in with the family of a master plasterer who was a friend of Shunryu's. On January 1, 1950, she was installed in her new position at the Tokiwa Kindergarten, and she did a great deal more than just stand there.
Mitsu was born to *Kaemon and *Toki *Sakai in Shizuoka on April 23, 1914. She was so vocal that people joked she had been born of her mother's mouth. She loved storytelling and drama. Her father worked at city hall and her family was Buddhist, members of Jodo Shin-shu, the *True Pure Land sect, which emphasized faith and gratitude. She went to a Methodist school and converted. She felt that she had been hardened by the early loss of her mother and that Christianity would help her to develop a warmer personality. In 1936 she married a navy pilot, *Masaharu Matsuno, a kind man who had the sort of character she wished she had. After only nine months of marriage, he had to go to fight in China in a war that neither had anticipated.
He flew fifty-eight bombing missions to Nanking. She wrote him letters saying, "Please remember people in China are no different from me. They are families waiting for the safe return of their husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons who have gone to war. So please don't drop bombs on towns. Please try to drop them on places like rice fields only to startle the snails." Masaharu died there, leaving her with a daughter he'd never met. Mitsu called her Harumi, a combination of their two names.
Every morning except Sunday, Shunryu pedaled down the road on his bicycle to the Tokiwa Kindergarten, not far from the center of town. He would lead the teachers in a circumambulation of the building and then go to the playroom, where a Buddha statue was enshrined at an altar. There he would offer incense and lead the teachers, each holding a text, in a recitation of the *Shushogi (The Meaning of Practice and Enlightenment), a modern compilation from Dogen's writings. After that he would say a few words of encouragement. Then the children would arrive, Chie bringing Otohiro, who was now five.
One day when he was eleven, Shunryu's son Hoitsu went to a ceremony at the school and heard his father speak.
On her first day at work, Shunryu asked Mitsu to attend Kishizawa's lectures as part of her job. That she was Christian didn't matter, he said, she had a religious mind, which his teaching would penetrate. Kishizawa was teaching at a university in *Kobe, but he still returned to his temple to give talks once a month. When he gave a dharma talk on Dogen's Shobogenzo at his temple, monks would come from all over. At his talks for laypeople nearly everyone would be in their sixties or seventies. Mitsu was just thirty-five. She would sit in the front row and listen carefully. His talks were often on the Shushogi, which she wanted to understand because they chanted it at school. She couldn't understand much, but Shunryu told her not to worry: "Just sit there with your ears on your head."
One day she said to Kishizawa, "I feel refreshed when I walk out through the temple gate after your lecture, but when I return I feel muddy all over again. Isn't it bad to repeat this pattern?"
Kishizawa answered, "After walking in the fog my robe doesn't dry easily. After getting caught in a shower it does. Either is fine. I'm still walking in fog. That's all for my talk today."
Mitsu joined the zazenkai of the kindergarten teachers. One day after zazen and Shunryu's brief talk, she asked a bold question. "Hojo-san, I know I shouldn't ask this, but could you please tell me what is gained from zazen? I don't want to do it for no reason."
A practical question called for a practical answer: "The practice of zazen makes you capable of dealing with a situation in the best way, on the spot."
Another time Mitsu told Shunryu that she was having trouble understanding Kishizawa's lectures and asked if he could tell her in a few words what Buddhism was all about.
"Mmmmm," he murmured breathing out slowly. "Accept what is as it is and help it to be its best."
Mitsu applied that attitude with the teachers in the kindergarten, praising rather than criticizing them. Soon she noticed that they were treating her like family. She now considered herself a Buddhist, but didn't mention it to Shunryu.
In reflecting on our problems, we should include ourselves.
A dealer in garden stones was working in the creek to the west of the Rinso-in buddha hall, digging out stones. Shunryu was trading them for a pile of quarried rock, which he was arranging into a wall on the bank. Chie came out and told Shunryu he should slow down, get some rest. He waved her off. "Please be careful," she said. This was nothing compared to the job they'd done bringing in the jumbo stone above the pond in back. That had taken a week to get in place. Everyone in the village had thought he was somewhat crazy. It weighed tons, and Chie was sure he was going to kill himself getting it in. He seemed to be more concerned about the frogs than himself and spent a good deal of time making sure there weren't any in the way. They had used bars, timbers, a winch, muscle, sweat, heavy breathing, and the skilled application of leverage to get it just where he wanted it. Now Shunryu was getting the sharp mountain rocks placed just right to build a wall to stop the bank from eroding.
Yasuko watched him in awe while he worked. There was such a contrast between Shunryu in robes and Shunryu in work clothes.
In his face too, there was the soft aspect and the tough aspect. He seemed to get bigger and more masculine when wrestling a rock into place. Sometimes he seemed gentle and feminine--like when he spoke to visitors. He was thin, the height of a woman. He wore size twenty-three tabi--not a man's size--and he liked sweet potato, which to her was a woman's food. But there was the fierce man too, the one who could move big stones and big people.
Suddenly he let out a yell.
The stone dealer drove Shunryu to the hospital, his hand wrapped in a bloody headband. He'd caught a finger between two rocks, and a sharp edge had cut him right to the bone. It was the fourth finger on his right hand. The doctors sewed it up. No sooner had they returned than Shunryu was back down in the creek working with the stones, his arm in a sling, with Chie scolding him and telling him to come inside. The finger was never the same again. When the muscles and tendons healed, they were shortened, and his finger was permanently bent. From then on he had a distinctive bent-finger gassho.
One day at Yaizu station in 1951 Shunryu ran into *Gido Yamada while waiting for the noon express. Gido was in his sixties and had a little temple near Rinso-in, but spent most of his time at the Soto headquarters, where he was head of the international section--Soto Zen abroad. Shunryu decided to stay on and ride to Tokyo with his friend. He was always interested in hearing how things were going in Brazil and America. When they reached Tokyo, Shunryu realized to his dismay that he'd forgotten that he was on his way to perform a memorial service in Shizuoka. He phoned the family, apologized profusely to all who had gathered, and said he'd call for another priest to go over immediately. One was already on the way, he was told. It was not the first time he had missed a ceremony, and it was mortifying.
Godfather Amano was amused at Shunryu's absentmindedness. Shunryu would forget his watch at Amano's hotel, come back to get it, and leave without taking his umbrella. Seison the potter would keep quiet when he noticed that Shunryu had forgotten his wallet. Seison would let him walk all the way to Mori station to find out. To Chie it was more distressing. She would greet a deliveryman at the entryway and unexpectedly receive Shunryu's bag, which he always carried with him. He might not even have noticed that he didn't have it anymore. When they went out together she would carry his wallet, and when he went alone she would tie it to a string. She had him write his name on his watch. She had to cover for his absentmindedness and impracticality with money as well. He would buy a bell for the temple without regard for how much money was available. He would also lose money. People said that Shunryu could be the way he was because of her support.
Emotional difficulty is as hard as splitting a lotus in two. Even
though you split it in two, long strings will follow and you cannot
get rid of them. The strings are still there. But intellectual difficulty
is as easy as breaking a stone in two. Nothing is left.
His forgetfulness bothered Shunryu almost as much as it did Chie, and he didn't want to pass it on to his children. One cold morning not long after the war was over, his sisters had gone off to school when Hoitsu, now a first-grader, came back. When Shunryu asked what he was doing, he said he'd forgotten a book. Shunryu became furious and picked Hoitsu up, took him outside, and threw him into the little pond by the kitchen. Chie dragged the boy out. He was sobbing and sopping as she sat him before Shunryu. Hoitsu cried, shivered, apologized, and said, "I won't forget anything ever again for the rest of my life." At least he would never forget that experience.
Again, Shunryu's two-headed nemesis--forgetfulness and anger--had arisen. Once he got aggravated with Hoitsu over what he saw as a lazy attitude toward his third-grade homework. He gave Hoitsu a bowl and some chopsticks, put him out, and told him to go away and not come back. Hoitsu cried and said he was sorry and walked around the temple for hours, but the doors were closed and there was no response. Finally when it was quite late his mother brought her boy in and asked Shunryu to forgive him.
Japanese Buddhism was infused with two traditions from China--Taoism and Confucianism. Like Buddhism, neither of them relied on the concepts of soul or god. The Tao was the soft way, the natural way, like water seeking the lowest level. Confucianism was the way of ethics, hierarchy, and obedience to a patriarchal social order. Only with his family did Shunryu seem to express this Confucian heritage. He wasn't as tolerant with his own children as he was with the children at school, whom he didn't scold at all. At home he occasionally spanked Hoitsu, almost never on the head as they had done in his father's time, but often enough so the boy knew it was an option.
Once when the old priest Zen'an and Shunryu were talking about the kindergarten, Hoitsu heard Zen'an chastising Shunryu about something he had said. After Zen'an left Hoitsu said, "That man yelled at you. I wish he would die!" Hoitsu's backside would never fully recover from the spanking that followed. Hoitsu would run from his father at times, frightened by the fierce look in his eyes. He was glad to see visitors, because his father didn't scold the children when guests were around.
Shunryu scolded Yasuko a lot too, more than the others, because she was the oldest. The danka and neighbors would tell her what a quiet, soft, and kind person her father was. Yasuko wondered why he behaved so differently at home and suspected it was because of his strict temple training. Maybe he thought that was how a good father should be in order not to spoil the children; or maybe it was the dark side of So-on's heritage.
Shunryu's children saw him as esteemed, distant, and preoccupied, and this was even harder on them than his temper. Sitting in the warmth of the hibachi in the evening, he wouldn't say anything or pay any attention to them, but seemed to be looking far away. He walked slowly, lost in thought. Yasuko wished he were more of a father and not so much a public man, but she supposed that was what religious people were like. He just wasn't a family man. She wished he was more like her friends' fathers, and that he would hold her and play with her--at least a little. One day when she was eleven he took her to Shizuoka, and she found it difficult to walk by his side, because she wasn't used to being with him. Embarrassed because he seemed so superior to her, she moved to the other side of the street.
Shunryu would speak sharply to Chie, but she didn't return the sharpness. They had an old-fashioned relationship with defined roles and status. Men were considered higher than women throughout the nation, and since they were a temple family those customs were even stronger. He slept alone, while Chie would fall asleep with the children. Following the old custom, he walked ahead of her on the street. Chie did not complain; it was her way too, and they were a well-oiled team that had endured a lot together. He respected her and she respected him, as did her mother, who addressed him with the formal title Hojo-sama. Obaa-san would tell the children that their father was a priest to be revered, and that he was more strict with himself than with anyone else. They called him *Oto-sama,[Note - sama being an extra polite honorific] unlike their friends, who addressed their fathers in more familiar ways, such as *Otosan or even *Tosan or *Tochan.
Chie paid close attention to her children. She didn't get angry much, but she nagged and was always telling them to do things. She was self-sacrificing, constantly working, in a hurry to do things for her family and others, and sometimes she would be in a bad mood, but the children were comfortable with her--especially at bedtime. Then she would relax and be affectionate. With her two youngest, sweet Otohiro and sensitive Omi, snuggled up to her, and Hoitsu and Yasuko on their own futons, she would start a story. Often she would get sleepy and slur her words. Then Yasuko would continue for her mother, till everyone had nodded off but her. Yasuko got so good at this that she gained a reputation at school as a good storyteller.
At last Yasuko would go to sleep, and eventually Shunryu's light would click off in his study. Kinu would be asleep in her room across the wide tatami hall, and maybe a few monks and lay students would be in the far wing beyond the buddha hall. It was time for the darkened temple to dream, floating above the turmoil of human interaction.
Next: Chapter Eight
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