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About the Book           

About Suzuki Roshi    

Excerpts from Crooked Cucumber

On peace and war 

From Crooked Cucumber, chapter six, Wartime - 1940–1945, pp. 92-115 (the whole chapter).

We should know our tendencies.


In 1940 Miss Ransom wrote to Shunryu Suzuki that she could no longer stay in Tientsin. The Japanese army had taken control, the British were not on good terms with the new administration, and she would return to England. After Japan had occupied Manchuria and set up a government in 1932 with Pu Yi as the puppet emperor, the army had set its sights on the rest of China and Southeast Asia. They had methodically swept to victory on many fronts, although America, England, and Holland had established a boycott to try to force Japan to back down. Japanese airplanes had been bombing cities, and a Japanese newspaper, the Asahi Shinbun, reported on a massacre of civilians in Nanking. The war in Europe was raging; there was talk that Japan might break its neutrality and align itself with Germany. The political parties were dead, and totalitarians had taken almost complete charge in Tokyo. In the schools, imperial myths and propaganda were taking the place of literature and history.

In this precarious political climate Shunryu felt compelled to help his society as best he could. Most people didn't want to think about what was happening, but he had a special rapport with young people, whose minds were more open.

Even before the war I had strong feelings against war. I organized young men in my area to have the right understanding of the situation in Japan at that time. We invited good people from the government to come and answer our questions. My focus was not so much on preventing war as on trying to counter one-sided views of Japan's situation, of ourselves, and of human nature. I didn't have any big purpose for my group; I just didn't want my friends to be involved in the kind of nationalism which I thought might destroy Japan completely. It's more dangerous than war.

Shunryu met primarily with educated young men of eighteen and nineteen, men who would enter the military when they were twenty. Teachers, artists, intellectuals, and others would also come by to talk discreetly and express their views. Sometimes Shunryu handed out papers he'd written, urging that Japan work with other nations toward amicably solving problems rather than acting rashly in a way that might bring on destruction. In his understated, low-key way he questioned some of the absurd yet popular assumptions and false accusations of the right, and he encouraged a balanced view. Liberal politicians and teachers were being purged and assassinated, but a priest could couch his views within Buddhism's traditional pacifism and dialectic. Shunryu was blessed with a lack of didacticism and ideology, which protected him from criticism by right-wingers. But not completely.

Some people in the town had been uncomfortable with the goings-on at the temple. Shunryu was occasionally criticized for misleading people, but his way of expressing himself was accepted by his superiors in the Soto organization, and they invited him to head a new organization to promote patriotic imperial Buddhism. He felt they wanted to use his skills to help organize civilians against America and England. He was put on the spot. Japan was supposed to be like one big family built around national identity and adherence to duty without regard for oneself. It would be unpatriotic to decline. Shunryu thought about how to deal with the offer and decided on a course of action. He accepted, his sponsors were happy, there was a celebratory dinner party, and the next day he resigned. The subtle distinction between refusing and resigning made all the difference. When he returned to Rinso-in, neither he nor the temple had lost face.

Japan had had a wartime economy for years, building a mighty military machine to carry out the improbable plan of establishing a new order in Asia. Some had hoped that reason might win out, that there could be a compromise with the West. One idea was to pull out of Southeast Asia and insist only on China as their natural sphere of influence. But then the fanatic minister of war, Tojo, became prime minister, the army seized power, and the dark valley turned pitch-black.


There was a service at Rinso-in one Monday morning with just his family in attendance, for Buddha's enlightenment day, the most important day in the Zen Buddhist year. There had been a big ceremony the day before and a banquet with hundreds in attendance, but Monday was the actual date. Six-year-old Yasuko offered aduki beans and sweet rice soup to Shakyamuni at the family altar and listened to her father and mother chant, the latter holding on to two-year-old Hoitsu. After the service, Shunryu told his family that a war with the Americans and the English had started.

It was December 8, 1941, still December 7 in the West. In the name of the emperor and with his full knowledge, the Japanese military had struck in Hawaii, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines on the morning of Buddha's enlightenment. What a day to have chosen to launch this insanity! There was nothing Shunryu could do now but recite a sutra.


The way that helps will not be the same.

It changes according to the situation.


Of the many young men who passed through Rinso-in during World War II, a few would have a lifelong relationship with Shunryu Suzuki. One of these was Yasuo Suetsune. Suetsune shyly stepped into the entryway at Rinso-in for the first time and called out, "Ojama shimasu," meaning excuse me for bothering you. Chie came out from the kitchen, greeted him as an honored guest, and took him to a room at the back of the hall where a group of people were sitting around a large low table. He sat down quietly and nodded as she served him a cup of tea. It was 1943 and he was seventeen years old, soon to be a new student living in the dorm at Shizuoka Preparatory School. He'd heard about Rinso-in and the priest Suzuki-san from students at his school. Some spoke highly of their experience at Rinso-in—and of the food. You could never get enough food in those days.

Suetsune listened. It was interesting, very interesting. People were talking freely with no set agenda. There was reference to the war without the parroting of slogans, and frank talk about alternatives and new directions—nothing seditious, but most unusual. A middle-aged monk in a grey robe sat next to him. Every once in a while the monk would add something to the conversation. People were friendly; there was occasional laughter and an informal feeling, but still an intensity and seriousness commensurate with the times. What struck him most was that there didn't seem to be anyone in charge.

When it broke up he was introduced to the group by an acquaintance. The monk welcomed him and said his name was Suzuki.

"Suzuki-san? This is your temple?" he asked.


Suetsune was shocked to find out that the inconspicuous monk was the abbot of that prestigious temple. He was acting just like one of the group. Japanese priests didn't do that; they were of high status, and regular people were below them. This was indeed a unique place. He asked if he could live at Rinso-in, and Shunryu straightaway accepted him. He wouldn't have to pay anything, but there was one condition: that he sit zazen in the morning with the others before going to school. He could stay with the other four boys in the wing on the opposite side of the buddha hall from the family quarters.


At 4:40 am Shunryu lifted a mallet and struck the han, a thick wooden board, calling the boys to get out of bed, wash their faces, and come to zazen. He sat with them at five, and after fifty minutes of zazen led them in a service that was over at six. There was a brief cleaning period, then breakfast, and the boys were off past the blooming camellias, walking an hour to the station. The train took thirty minutes to get to Shizuoka; then they had to walk another half hour to get to school. It was a lot of trouble, but well worth it to Suetsune.

As Suetsune's fellow student Kozuki said, Shunryu set an example by his own attitude and conduct. He never scolded them, but treated them with unusual respect, like friends. If they asked a question his answer would be brief, simple, and clear. There was a lot of talk. They were all starved for the chance to express themselves, and he was the quiet mediator of the ongoing salon in the evenings and on weekends, when others would come to share thoughts and feelings—and food.


When Shunryu went to Gyokuden-in to see Kishizawa, he would often bring one of the boys along. His teacher would drop by Rinso-in at times and sit zazen in the buddha hall without announcing his arrival. Kishizawa came to Rinso-in on occasional Sunday afternoons and gave lectures to Shunryu's students on Dogen's Shobogenzo, Shishobo, and other texts. It was hard for the boys to understand all the specialized terminology, and eventually he stopped, saying they weren't going to be monks, so that was enough. After that they went as a group to hear his more simple lectures for laypeople. Kishizawa would scold Shunryu in front of the young men at times, and Shunryu would accept his teacher's words with no resistance. But he did not agree with the old man on everything. Kishizawa was lending Buddhism's support to the nation's war effort. He wrote a book on the precepts in which he expressed support for Japan's militarism. He told young men to fire their guns with the mind of Buddha, like the samurai of old, with no thought of life and death.


Since 1942 the informal fraternity of Shunryu's students had called themselves the Takakusayamakai—the High Grass Mountain Group, after the terraced and forested mountain that rose above Rinso-in, and Takakusa, the village below. That year a new and brilliant student, Nishinakama, had come to Rinso-in. Masao Nishinakama was supercharged, a born leader and organizer, yet he had a light, friendly nature. Nishinakama and Shunryu immediately became kindred spirits. Meeting Shunryu had given focus to Nishinakama's energy, and he in turn had given more direction to Shunryu's group. Nishinakama was a brilliant student, always top in his class, and Shunryu respected his scientific way of thinking and his dedication to truth. He was almost reckless in his drive to get to the bottom of things, and he got Shunryu to allow them to hold meetings that would go on for days. He was full of ideas and charisma, by far the most outspoken of the students. Perhaps he was protected by his father, a retired senior officer of the dreaded Tokko, the secret police, in Tokyo.

There were few people in Japan those days who thought the war was wrong, and few of those had figured out how to talk about it without going to jail or losing their positions. No one could voice strong doubts or criticize the state, but there was room for positive suggestions. Anything Shunryu had done that could be considered remotely antiwar he had done before the Pacific war started. Now in 1943 there was little he could do. He didn't oppose the war, didn't oppose the government, didn't advocate surrender, didn't say that Japan was wrong. He didn't want Japan to lose the war, he just wanted it to be over. He was torn between his belief in Buddhism and peace, and his devotion to duty and country. But if he was careful he could talk about how much more Japan could accomplish if there were peace. The official policy of the government was that the war was being fought for peace, so the students could talk about the root cause of war and risking their lives for peace. It would be difficult to say that the war should be ended right away, but so many had already died in the fighting, and people were living in such hardship, that it was a patriotic duty to suggest ways that Japan could become strong and healthy as a nation again. Shunryu never overtly invoked the precept against killing to advocate an end to the war on moral grounds.


With so many males at war, it was unusual to see all those young men going in and out of Rinso-in. People noticed, but the boys seemed to be upstanding citizens. When their time came to enter the military they bid farewell to their comrades and went off. In 1941 all Japanese men had been required to take a physical exam, and all were subject to the draft, including Buddhist priests. If they refused, they would go to jail. After being drafted they would be treated as priests again only when they died or returned home. Men over forty or those who failed the physical would be sent to factories or left to work in the fields.

Shunryu had escaped the draft. Some said it was because he was too small or because of his persistent cough from having had tuberculosis, others thought it was because he had influential friends such as the eccentric Kozo Kato, a former member of the Diet's lower house. Shunryu himself thought he had escaped military duty because the authorities feared that his unusual ideas would hurt morale and decided to keep him marginalized in his temple, where he seemed to be doing no harm. "My name had a mark by it," he said.

Shinto was a central part of the establishment, and Shinto priests encouraged the martial spirit. Many Buddhist priests took on that role too, and they almost all performed funerals and memorial services for soldiers, prayed for the dead, and recited special chants called eko, which included new passages for the benefit of the emperor and winning the war. There were plenty of funerals at Rinso-in—often joint funerals for the ashes of soldiers sent back from the battlefields. No institution could escape the shadow of government authority or complicity in the course of events. Shunryu was grudgingly helping out a great deal more than he wanted to. To him there was no way out. All of Japan was part of the battlefield and, by necessity, everyone was contributing to the life and death struggle of the nation. There was a more radical alternative: Some communists were going to jail for not supporting the war effort, but no Buddhists took that strong a stand.

Soldiers and naval engineers took over the far wing of Rinso-in and eventually even part of the family quarters as their residence. A communications station was being built on the mountain and an airfield was under construction in the city. The military needed the spacious temple to house the overflow of personnel. Shunryu and Chie did not like having soldiers in the temple. They were coarse, arrogant, and rude, and they would not make themselves useful in any way. It was almost unbearable to have to listen to their merrymaking late into the night. While distressed at the attitude of these guests who had been forced on the temple, Shunryu and his students had to suffer it in silence. The soldiers would take food from the temple and make unreasonable demands on his and Chie's time. Officers would strike underlings—the army used a stick, the navy a strap. Their presence made Chie and Shunryu value the young men from the High Grass Mountain Group all the more. Some soldiers came to Shunryu for advice and sat zazen with him; he treated them with the same respect as he would a monk. He was ready to respect soldiers if they were sincere, but he found that most were not.

It was most painful when the authorities informed him that they would also house Korean laborers at Rinso-in. These were men who had been yanked from their homeland and who were now forced to work for their captors. The Koreans moved into the zendo, which Shunryu had been fixing up for his students to sit in.

And then there was the day they had to give the temple bells to the navy to be melted down for ship propellers. This was heartbreaking to Shunryu; he especially loved the big old bell. Its sound would carry far away into Yaizu and was part of the soul of Rinso-in. But all metal belonged to the war effort: families gave the metal in their homes, women gave their rings. So on the appointed day Shunryu helped the old men in the congregation gather the bells and gongs. They lowered the large bronze bell from its tower, decorated it, and tied it to timbers with rope. In front of the temple in fancy robes he conducted a service to send these sacred instruments to war. The men hoisted the timbers onto their shoulders and the procession went off to the docks to deliver Buddha's gift and their sacrifice at an official military reception. Shunryu refused to join them and went to his room to be alone.


On one side we are all fools, but when we realize this we
are enlightened, and when we make efforts in the face of it,
we are bodhisattvas.


By early 1945 Rinso-in was crowded. In addition to the Suzuki family, the students, soldiers, and Korean laborers, there were now more than sixty children living there, evacuated from Tokyo to escape the bombing and subsequent firestorms. Chie and Shunryu's sister Tori helped look after them. Tori and her family had also left Tokyo and moved in—all six of them. Aiko, now Aiko Uchiyama, was with her priest husband and children in a temple in Hamamatsu, having returned in 1942 after a three-year stay in Taiwan.

Fearing air raids, godfather Amano came at times in a horse-drawn carriage with his family, often spending the night outside in the valley below the temple, far away from any targets. Some cities, such as nearby Shimizu, had been shelled by ships. There was fear of that in Yaizu as well, but it never happened. There were many displaced people, and Shunryu and Chie tried to keep the temple open to them, while helping them find other places to stay. The Suzukis were crowded into a small room of the temple next to the kitchen. They now had a girl named Omi, born in 1942, and a boy named Otohiro, born in 1944.

Food had become scarce. The soldiers and Korean laborers cooked for themselves and were better supplied. Much of the nation's rice was going to the troops; the Suzukis and their guests subsisted by foraging in the woods and growing food in the temple garden. The garden had been inspired by the sweet potato crop at a nearby little Soto temple called Zuioji, run by the Sugiyamas. One day after returning from Zuioji, Shunryu went out and started removing stones from a plot below the temple. Soon the caretaker and some villagers were helping. They put in manure and built a fence to keep animals out. They had a good crop of sweet potatoes, pumpkins, cabbage, and a variety of other vegetables, though it was never enough.

Yasuko and some of the other children would go with Tori and Chie up into the mountains and return with chestnuts, acorns, and locusts. Anything edible was a treat; there was no concept of three meals a day. Most civilians were willing to eat less so that the soldiers in the field had more. In this way they were fighting the war too. In that spirit Chie would feed Shunryu's students before her own family.

The children saw every wild berry as a contribution to the war effort. They believed in the divinity of the emperor, saluted the soldiers, and thought the war was a righteous and winning cause against white devils. Even nine-year-old Yasuko thought that way, and it would have been futile for her parents to try to contradict the propaganda she absorbed at school.

Shunryu would go out with his begging bowl on takuhatsu, a practice that was no longer merely ceremonial. Without looking up from his conical begging hat, he would receive food and small change while chanting verses for the donors. On these walks he would stop to help workers dig ditches for refuge in air raids and would plant cucumbers and eggplant around the edges.

As times got harder, the ideas coming from some of the High Grass Mountain Group became more bold. During his stay at Rinso-in, Nishinakama had come up with the idea of starting a type of peace corps in the rural areas of China, as a model of how Japan could move from military to peaceful activity. Shunryu was enthusiastic. Nishinakama was well connected and, through his relationship with General Takagi, he had gone to China to check out the situation. He returned disillusioned and depressed, saying that conditions everywhere were chaotic and deteriorating. There he had learned that Japan was losing the war.

Nishinakama urged Shunryu to go to China and try to get Chiang Kai-shek to communicate directly with Emperor Hirohito. Nishinakama had told General Takagi in Tokyo about the High Grass Mountain Group and other salons he was involved with, and had suggested that groups like this could help develop young leaders. He asked the general to help him meet with Prince Takamatsu, who was said to be the highest-ranking person in Japan who wanted peace, and who later personally asked the emperor to surrender. These were the sorts of incredibly ambitious ideas that Shunryu was hearing. He admired the young men greatly for their sincerity, courage, and willingness to think beyond the war.


Shunryu's well-placed friend Kozo Kato was encouraging him to go to Manchuria, which had now been occupied by Japan for over a decade. Free of fighting at this time, it was considered a new frontier. Kozo was in charge of emigration from Shizuoka Prefecture to three villages in Manchuria. Though a colonizer, he was a great admirer of the Chinese and Manchurians, and a student of their history and poetry.

In a world where wild propaganda was coming from everywhere, where most people kept their mouths shut and their eyes down, Kozo was a colorful, outspoken character. As a member of the dissolved lower house of the Diet, he had not been an enthusiast of the war, but he was loyal to his country and did his part to see that Japan was successful. He believed they were establishing a better society in Manchuria. Though he was tied to government, he claimed to be an anarchist and was sympathetic with the communists, whom he felt were in touch with the natural order.

Kozo had gotten into trouble for holding a community meeting in his nearby hometown of Shimada and announcing that Japan was losing the war. The secret police had abruptly dispersed the assembly, threatening to imprison anyone who stayed. Kozo was always being watched, and after that the surveillance was increased.

He was a friend to the downtrodden. Those who went to Manchuria were the poorest of farmers. He recruited wives for them. He also regularly visited a leper colony and wrote a book on the eta, the Japanese untouchables—a subject that was virtually taboo.


Kozo felt he could best contribute to Japan by helping to feed the population. There were almost unlimited possibilities in Manchuria for farming. He and his wife were heavily involved in the local Brown Rice Movement; they argued that eating white rice was a waste of nutrition and national resources. If everyone ate unhulled brown rice the nation could be better fed with much less. The Katos were influenced by Food to Win the War With, a book that advocated, among other things, eating more alkaline than acidic foods. Shunryu was familiar with such ideas from his master So-on.

In the area of Manchuria colonized from Shizuoka, there was a shortage of Buddhist temples and priests. Many people had died without having had Buddhist services. According to Kozo there were vast possibilities for Shunryu there. It was a much brighter place to be, without the food shortage or the gloom that was hanging over Japan. Kozo said that the Japanese had a much more positive relationship with the Manchurians than with the Chinese. The Japanese shared the view of many Manchurians that Manchuria should be separate from China. Kozo said there was a cooperative spirit among the farmers—Manchurians, Japanese, and Koreans—who could homestead there as well. Maybe it would become an independent nation after the war or be divided up into anarchist villages.

Kozo had urged Shunryu to go a number of times. Shunryu was interested in Kozo's offer, but he had too many responsibilities in Yaizu.

Kusumi Shungo was an important administrator in Manchuria whom Shunryu had come to know through Kozo. Shungo leaned more toward an imperial form of government than Kozo, who was mainly concerned about the Japanese people. But neither Kozo nor Shunryu was anti-imperial; they were just not fond of the emperor's recent ridiculous role as demigod. The three of them agreed on many things. They talked about the Brown Rice Movement and how to end the war, and they shared a dislike for fanaticism and the demonization of foreigners. Shunryu said that if the Japanese based their actions on Buddhist principles, they wouldn't get sucked into such one-sided thinking—just as he had said publicly in prewar times. Kozo had brought Shungo to some of Shunryu's discussions before the

war, when he was stressing the importance of accomplishing goals through peaceful means. They had also met at Gyokuden-in, where they went to hear Kishizawa lecture.

The three friends sat in Kozo's house one night drinking sake and talking quite freely. The windows were taped and covered. They were covered so the dim light wouldn't escape to help the bombers see the city, and taped so that if a bomb went off nearby the glass wouldn't shatter. Shungo joked that they'd better be careful what they said. Kozo showed them piles of communist magazines he had collected and laughed defiantly, saying that they had nothing to fear in his home because they were well protected by the secret police outside—his son Taro had been going out and playing with them for years.


To live in the realm of buddha nature means to die

as a small being, moment after moment.


Taro Kato was going to Manchuria with his father. The boy had pestered and pestered him, and Kozo had finally given in, even though his son was only twelve years old and small for his age.

Like his father and his father's friends, Taro had a bent for big ideas. He attended an agricultural school and wanted to look into the possibility of establishing large-scale farming in Manchuria using modern techniques. The land was wide and open like Hokkaido. He had been studying hard to prepare for the trip. When he had first mentioned his ambition, Shunryu and Shungo were present, and all three men had taken him seriously. Now his father would let him risk his life venturing across the Japan Sea. But just as father and son were about to board the express train at Shizuoka station, there was an air raid, and Taro headed for the station basement. The train would not wait. Kozo called to the boy, "I'm going," and left him behind in Japan.

Taro showed up at Rinso-in and told Shunryu about his disappointment. His father had sent a message to Taro suggesting he get Shunryu to come over with him. "I'll do it!" Shunryu said and set about making arrangements. He contacted Soto headquarters, which immediately gave him an official appointment—not as a chaplain for the army but as a missionary priest. They hadn't sent anyone to Manchuria for over a year. Shunryu contacted the appropriate government department, but they didn't think it was a good idea. He continued with his plans anyway; Manchuria was called Outer Japan and no special papers were needed. Getting the tickets was harder, but with Kozo's connection, it proved to be no problem. Taro got them tickets as emigrants at half price.

Aside from Shunryu's time at Eiheiji in Fukui, neither he nor Taro had ever left the Kanto region of Japan where they lived. It was a perilous time for travel. Shunryu packed a few things and bid farewell to godfather Amano, his family, and a few students who were living there. It seemed like a rash, even an irresponsible thing to do. Above all, those close to him were worried they'd never see him again.

On May 14, 1945, Shunryu and Taro stood on the platform at the Shizuoka station. They were taking the train to Shimonoseki, where they would board a ferry to Pusan, Korea. Taro's mother was there to see them off, giving each a box lunch with brown rice balls and cucumbers. The train was at the station, but they waited to see what direction the bombers would take. The B-29s went east that day, so it was safe to board. They picked up their rucksacks and off they went.

The conductor on the train to Shimonoseki warned them that they'd have a hard time getting across the straits on the ferry. They were stuck at an inn for a few days, where they ate rice and beans. But they didn't have much money, so they went to the house of a college friend of Shunryu, who welcomed them and served them rice, fish, and seaweed—better food than they had at Rinso-in. They couldn't have managed it without him. During the days they searched the docks during constant bombing till finally they heard that a ferry would be leaving. It was early June. Ferries were prized targets for American submarines and planes, which were trying to cut off communication between Japan and the mainland.

But the ferry did make it to Pusan, where there was no bombing. They stayed overnight, even saw a movie, then took a night train to Manchuria. The train schedules were undependable, and they had to get their tickets one segment at a time, since they didn't have authorization for longer rides. Efficient and alert young Taro was the navigator; he bought the tickets, carried the maps and money, checked the timetables, and made sure they were at the right place at the right time with all their possessions and that they got off the train when they reached their station. Shunryu, in good hands, was free to look at the scenery and doze. And he didn't lose anything.

In Korea they could easily get by speaking Japanese. Once they arrived in Manchuria, Shunryu found that his English was useful. Taro knew some Chinese, the language of agricultural studies in Japan. When the train stopped, they would get off and barter with farmers for potatoes and pumpkins. After a few days and some lengthy delays, they arrived in Shinkyo, Manchukuo (as the Japanese called it), where Kozo was living. He was waiting at the station. He had been meeting every train for days and had been worried. Not everyone got to their destination in those times.

"I've been so worried about you two," he said as they approached him. "How did you make it?"

"By crawling out from under the debris of the firebombs in Fukuoka," said Shunryu.


Shunryu and Taro had been riding in third class with the peasants and were covered with lice. In Japan lice were sometimes called Kannon-sama, the bodhisattva of compassion, and as they shook and picked the lice off their bodies they joked that it would be wrong to hurt Kannon-sama. While in Shinkyo they took desperately needed baths, then made further travel plans. Kozo could get them all tickets for the whole journey at once. After a few days they went to Harbin, the capital of Manchuria. In Harbin there was such a shortage of vehicles and fuel that the mayor had to commandeer a fire truck for their tour. They had a high time seeing the sights and meeting various dignitaries, completely unaware that hideous biological experiments were being conducted in that very city by Japanese army doctors on captive soldiers and civilians.

They visited three villages of immigrants from their home prefecture of Shizuoka. At one they stayed with a Shinto priest, who took Shunryu to the homes and farms of people who needed services performed. At another they stayed with a former Diet member. There were so many homes that needed memorial services that Shunryu would stand in front of them chanting, and people would come outside and give him envelopes with a few small bills of currency or offerings of food. They thanked him over and over, their bodies bowed in respect as he walked on.

Shunryu and the Katos went on to other cities and villages, passing wide expanses of land and mountain ranges. In each place they would see the sights and would meet with friends of Kozo and with local officials like the Manchurian mayors and their subordinates. Taro didn't join the meetings; he'd go out and play in the fields and look around. But he also had plenty of opportunities to examine agricultural practices. His dream of managing a large farm was closer to becoming a reality. All the Japanese immigrants paid attention to Shunryu in his brown priest's robes. People inquired about how things were back in Shizuoka. Was there enough food? How much had been destroyed? There was plenty of food in Manchuria, and banquets were held for the visitors. As Kozo had said, the mood among the Japanese there was upbeat compared to the mood in Japan. Many wanted Shunryu to stay.

"What do you think?" asked Kozo.

"I want to establish a branch temple of Rinso-in in Manchuria," Shunryu answered.

Kozo talked to various officials and merchants about finding Shunryu land for a temple. After some research he decided on a large tract of land bordering a train line about ninety miles northwest of Harbin. He went there with Shunryu, Taro, and an engineer from the Manchurian Development Agency. There were flatlands, hills, a river, and luxuriant forest growth as well. Shunryu fell in love with it right away; it was the ideal environment. From there he could take care of the needs of the Japanese from Shizuoka Prefecture and also build a training temple where he could practice and teach the way he had learned from his masters. The Japanese people he met in this area were not so narrowly programmed as those back in Japan. He could make a fresh start and the temple would be open to Manchurians as well as Japanese.

"There's one problem with this land though," Kozo told Shunryu. "It is remote, and tigers are known to frequent the area."

"Tigers will make it all the more interesting," said Shunryu. "If I'm not good enough to practice with the tigers, then I have no business being here."

The decision was made; they hurried back to Shinkyo, where Kozo could make arrangements without delay.

Weeks passed. July 1945 arrived, and everything changed. Okinawa had fallen. Germany had been out of the war since its surrender in April, and the Americans could now concentrate on the Pacific front. Japanese troops were returning from occupied places throughout Asia to defend the home islands from certain invasion. There were rumors that the Russians were about to break their neutrality; soon they might be coming down from the north. Suddenly Japanese were trying to get out of Manchuria as fast as they could, and the Manchurians were clearly elated to see them go. A thin facade crumbled—the pretense that anything other than force had made it possible for the Japanese to stay. Kozo was ordered by his superiors to return to Japan right away. He embraced his son, bowed to Shunryu, and flew off for Tokyo on a rattling airplane used by black marketeers. Now Shunryu and Taro had to get out as quickly as they could, forgetting the temple and the farm.

Of the three ferries that had been running sporadically between Korea and Japan, only one had not been sunk. Every day Shunryu and Taro would go to the train station, only to be told that the boat wasn't coming in from Pusan. Finally one day tickets were available, and the two left on the 3:15 pm train.

At the station in Harbin they were told that the ferry from Pusan had been damaged. Shunryu said that there would be a way, and they should just continue. They made it to the coast and found a steamboat carrying a cargo of chickens to Korea. Soon he and Taro were steaming south. On the boat were many Koreans in a jubilant mood. They had taken all the good seats and now were pushing the Japanese around, shouting, "You're going to lose the war!"

The steamboat ride ended in northern Korea, and they went to the train station. A sign read, "We will not sell tickets. There is no boat to Japan."

Shunryu said not to worry, that they could not depend on signs. "To me the sign reads, 'We will sell tickets. There is a boat to Japan.'" He felt they should just take the train and something would happen. They asked for tickets to Japan, and when told that none were available, Shunryu asked for tickets going south along the coast: "That's where the boats are." At each station they would get out, go to the docks, and talk to the workers about how dangerous it was to go to Japan, about the condition of ships, and about where one might be leaving from. Keep going south, they were told. Eventually, at a small station the conductor announced that all who wanted to go to Japan should get off and go to Sanroshin. When they reached Sanroshin they were told to go to nearby Fort Mason at the harbor.

No one knew if a boat would come. There was talk of all the ships that had been sunk. America was in total control of the seas. Finally one day a huge navy troopship came into the harbor escorted by two cruisers. Shunryu looked at it, and like the sound of a bell ringing in his head came the certainty that this would be their last chance for a long time. Shunryu and Taro watched as troops boarded. Many were wounded and carried on stretchers. A crowd of Japanese civilians was desperately trying to get on board.

"We will be on this ship, just wait here for a while," Shunryu told Taro and walked off. He came back with permission from the captain to board.

When darkness fell they steamed out of the harbor. At three in the morning they anchored far from shore. Watching the skies and listening to the waves, Shunryu was reminded of Dogen's perilous journey to China and back in the thirteenth century and felt confident that, as Dogen survived to bring Nyojo's teaching to Japan, so would he survive to sow his dharma seeds.

Morning approached. They learned that Hakata harbor was considered too dangerous to enter. The ship had anchored outside Onishi, a port that was too small for it to enter. Launches were sent at dawn to take them to the mainland. Shunryu and Taro boarded a civilian express train that stopped at Shizuoka. The mood in the station was different from anything they'd felt before—angry and frightened. People were breaking windows to get into the train. They were attacked by airplanes three times on the way back, but the train kept going.

On the night of July 15, having been away for two months, they arrived at Shizuoka station during an air raid. They both went to Rinso-in, where everyone was overjoyed to see them back safely. In Japan it is customary for a traveler to bring gifts home from a trip, and Shunryu surprised his children with a box of Korean hardtack. He and Taro scrubbed themselves down, then took long baths in hot, clean water.

Kozo showed up the next day. "It's a miracle! You've come back!" he exclaimed, crying and hugging his son and Shunryu. "How did you make it?"

Shunryu and Taro looked at each other. "We don't know," Shunryu said.

As long as you depend on something special, something it is assumed you should depend on, you are not strong enough to go on by yourself. You cannot find your way. So first of all, know yourself and be strong enough to live without any sign, without any information—that is the most important point. There is truth, you say, but there can be various truths. The question is not which way you should go. If you only try to go in one direction, or if you always depend on signs, you will not find your own way. The best thing is to have eyes to read various signs. I had this kind of experience when I was in Manchuria.


When you are fooled by something else, the damage will
not be so big. But when you are fooled by yourself, it is fatal.
No more medicine.


America had dropped bombs of incredible might on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Shunryu Suzuki couldn't believe what he'd heard—that anything could be that powerful, that a whole city could be destroyed by a single bomb. Some Japanese were still under a spell, believing that victory was ordained. Others said they wouldn't live long anyway if there was an invasion, so maybe the best way to go would be under these giant bombs. Shunryu said the fanaticism and bombs were what should be feared, not the Americans. The ultimate foolishness would be to not surrender. If we don't, he thought, everything will be over for Japan. This blind sacrifice of yourselves for Japan, he said, will only have been a sacrifice for the mistaken ideas of certain leaders.

Through some miracle Nishinakama and other former students from the High Grass Mountain Group were working in the General Planning Office in Tokyo. Shunryu had gotten the hint through them that there were other good people in the capital pressing for peace, such as General Yonai and Kintaro Suzuki, the new prime minister. Gempo-roshi from Mishima near Yaizu, whom Shunryu knew, had been advising the prime minister and the royal family. He had suggested that Japan was an ozeki, a sumo wrestler of the second-highest rank, who could lose with grace.

Avoiding annihilation was not an easy task. Now it was mainly a matter of convincing the top army staff. The Russians had declared war on Japan and were on their way. On August 13 there was another massive air attack on Tokyo by fifteen hundred planes. On the fourteenth the Americans returned to deluge the city with leaflets. It was said they wanted unconditional surrender, with no guarantees that the emperor could retain his position or even his life. Could there be peace with no guarantees at all? Would there be an invasion? Once a decision was made, everyone would go with it.

Then on Wednesday, August 15, the unprecedented word had gone out by radio, newspaper, and sound truck that the emperor's voice, the "jewel sound," would be broadcast at noon and heard for the first time by the public.

As noon approached all the radios in Japan were on. An announcer said in hushed and reverential tones that what was about to be broadcast was a recording that the emperor had made for all to hear. Only later did people learn of the intrigue, heroism, and sacrifice of life that had transpired at the Imperial Palace the night before to protect that recording so it could be broadcast.

Shunryu and Chie kneeled formally in seiza with Omi and Otohiro on her lap and Hoitsu and Yasuko at their sides. Tori and her family were there. The children from Tokyo had moved on; there were no students around. The shoji to the family area were open and a number of soldiers and navy men sat in the large open genkan (entryway) and wide hall. Some of them were smoking and even chatting with each other, showing, as usual, no respect for anything or anyone. The Koreans in the zendo listened on their own radio; it would be very hard for them or any person not well educated to understand all the special words the emperor would use, but they would get the essence. All Japan was still and waiting. The most unifying and heart-tearing event in the history of Japan was about to take place. The recording began with formalities and moved slowly to the subject.

"The war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage," were the first words, hinting with colossal understatement at the intent of the message. "The enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, whose power to do damage is indeed incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives." The emperor said that Japan had accepted the Potsdam Treaty. "Should we continue to fight, it would not only result in the ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it could lead to the total extinction of human civilization." The emotional core of the emperor's pronouncement sank into the hearts of the nation. "We are keenly aware of the inmost feelings of all of you, Our subjects. However, it is according to the dictate of time and fate that We have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come, by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is insufferable."

As the last words of the emperor's voice echoed through the halls of Rinso-in, Shunryu and his family wept openly. So many feelings, so much loss. Tori's husband and Chie's brother had died, as well as some of Shunryu's students and the sons of friends and danka. And now the empire was dead, Japan crushed and charred. The children cried for Japan's loss and because everyone else was in tears. So much struggling and suffering and madness, and now it was over. Cheers were coming from the Koreans in the zendo. Most of the soldiers were crying too, but there were some snickers and cynical comments from a couple of them.

Shunryu looked at them and saw not the slightest sincerity or caring, only a despicable insensitivity from these representatives of the forces that had, in their ignorance, brought Japan to the brink of total insanity and destruction. He stood wet-faced, breathing heavily, glaring at them. Then he erupted. Screaming out the years of frustration and inner turmoil, he snatched up a large, full sake bottle and heaved it into a solid wall. He began to grab anything within reach to fling through shoji and down the hall—plates, books, and cups. The children cried piteously. The soldiers were mute. Shunryu spent his wrath and walked outside.

The hot sun burned in the cloudless sky, and while Shunryu stared at the pond, from the zendo came the sound of Koreans jubilantly singing folk songs from home.


In Shimada, at his aunt's house after the emperor's speech, Taro Kato had watched his father go berserk, swinging a sword in the air, yelling that all he had done for the emperor was for naught. His brother-in-law handed him a large bottle of sake and put his arms around him saying this was no time for swinging swords, that he should go home and drink and sleep.

He would need the rest. The people he had sent to Manchuria had been coming back since July, and the trickle was turning into a flood. It was the beginning of harvest time, and they had just walked away from their homes, fields, animals, and possessions. Kozo's home was right in front of Shimada station, and the displaced had nowhere to go but into his house, carrying burlap bags and angry disappointment.

In Yaizu many people were panicking, burning records in homes, businesses, and at city hall; there was even an attempt to torch the building itself. The Americans were coming, and people feared that anything they had done might be used against them. Lists would be compiled, and the soldiers would go from home to home executing them. Of the survivors, men would become slaves and women would be raped. In Okinawa hundreds of women had jumped off cliffs rather than face the invaders.

The Americans had been called beasts and demons for so long that ordinary people were in terror. In meetings, on the streets, and in the temple, Shunryu urged them to be calm and not to worry. He had always said it wasn't only foreigners who could be devils; those among us who need to call them that may be the devils, the enemy. He encouraged people not to worry about the Americans. "They are people just like us, and they will understand us."

I didn't really know anything about America or other countries, but I had confidence in human nature and that human nature is the same wherever we go. I'd always expressed these sorts of views in my lectures or when students came. I had been criticized, but I hadn't been acting officially. It was just my opinion.

In the playground of a local elementary school sat a large inscribed memorial stone, the chukonhi, a monument for the spirits of fallen soldiers. People wanted it to be destroyed or buried.

Shunryu intervened. "Why do that? Isn't it natural to have a memorial for those who have sacrificed their lives for their country? There is nothing wrong with it. They'll understand."

But the locals feared they'd be punished, whereas if they destroyed it the Americans would be pleased.

"Carry it to my temple then," Shunryu said to them. "I will protect it as long as I'm alive, and I will take all the responsibility for any damage done by the Americans to this memorial."

So the chukonhi was moved to a spot in front of Rinso-in, and Shunryu held a service there for the war dead and enshrined it. Then everyone waited for the Americans.

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