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Excerpts from Crooked Cucumber

On peace and war 

From Crooked Cucumber, chapter seven, The Occupation - 1945-52, pp. 116-122.

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.


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.


Ever since I first knew the world of Dogen-zenji, I tested my belief that if I observed the Buddhist way faithfully, I would be supported. This was true during and especially after the war, when there was not enough to eat.

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.

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.

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.

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.

I was not purged after the world war. I had no record of supporting the military. And I had many printed documents expressing my feelings, many papers suggesting what our policies should be, what kind of danger the nation was in. Most of this may be difficult for Americans to understand. I didn't say anything about war. I said that if we neglected to understand Japan's situation clearly, if we based our understanding merely on what was broadcast or printed, then we would lose the real picture of Japan.

I cared more about the fundamental way of thinking that causes war. That is why I didn't like the nationalists in Japan. Their view was very one-sided and unrealistic. They brought accusations against others without knowing what they were doing. They created tremendous problems. So I put the emphasis on studying what was actually happening in the country, in the army, and in the political world.


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.

We fool ourselves in some way and enjoy the last day of the year. This is based on the Buddhist way of understanding life. Moment after moment we should renew our life, we should not stick to old ideas of what life is, or what our way of life is. Especially at the end of the year we should completely renew our feelings and completely clean even our cars. If we always stick to old ideas and always repeat the same thing over and over again, then we are confined in our old way of life. Some excitement or some occasion is necessary to encourage us along.


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.

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.

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