The Final Phase of Preparation: Experience as a Teacher
In a dream that was vivid in color, like something psychedelic, I witnessed the death of my elder brother during the war. I was on the point of leaving school at that time and he had of course been called up and mobilized already. Then, short.ly after, I received a letter from his fellow soldiers informing me that he had been killed in action. The time reported as being the time of his death coincided with the time of my dream and the manner of his death was exactly as I had dreamed it. My father was somewhat reluctant to believe what I told him, but I have no doubts than and I have no doubts to this day that I had witnessed my brother's death as though I had actually been present. Call it telepathic or the second sight, but I have no doubts. It was too vivid.
The same thing happened in the case of my twin brother. In my dream of his death, I heard him say in Japanese "Mo dame da....." (literally "I've had it........). Then he vanished. I felt very strange that I should have somehow seen both of my brothers die before my very eyes, and it certainly made me ponder deeply about my own life and why I should be spared to live while those nearest and dearest were doomed never to return home. It was then I became aware that my life might begin to take a course a course somewhat different from that which I was envisioning at the time.
So it came about that both of my brothers whom my father has raised to become priests were gone. My father then told me that I had to become a priest since neither of my brothers could succeed to the priestly office. This, however could not be undertaken immediately. For about three months or so, between June and November of the year of my return, 1946 I was engaged at the office of the Navy dealing with discharged personnel. I worked at Kurihara and was involved in investigating and assisting in the care of 2,000 returning soldiers. I was assigned also to deal with the unsettled affairs and remains of many deceased soldiers. Here again, some of experiences I had already undergone were reinforced as daily I saw the cost in human terms, not only to the military, but also to the civilian population at whom whose lives would never be the same again because of the losses they had sustained. In our family, two out of four brothers remained. Other families fared worse and I renewed my determination to be committed to peace although being in the midst of so much activity and concern, there was little time to think out how in the future I would pursue these goals. In September, 1946, I returned home to Tsubaki Grand Shrine and thereafter entered Kogakuin University in the area of Ise to be trained as a priest.
Kogakuin was originally State Shinto college which was closed briefly after the War. It was under supervision of the Grand Shrines of Ise and was known as Ise-Senmon Gakko. This is now known as Kogaku-kan or Kogaku Center. But before the war it was part of State Shinto. Kokka Shinto as it was called, for background information was administered by the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Naimusho . All other religious bodies in Japan, including Buddhism was supervised by the Ministry of Education. This was in part to substantiate the claim that Shinto was not a religion, but simply a form of Japanese custom. It was also to ensure that the ideological role of the Shrines could be guided administratively. This guidance was sometimes resisted especially by older and long established hereditary shrines. Tsubaki Grand Shrine survived the vicissitudes of State Shinto because the enshrined Kami, Sarutahiko OKami appears in the ancient Japanese mythology by name as the head of the earthly Kami, a position of great importance. Mie Prefecture itself was the scene of numerous shrine "mergers" as they were called, between 1910 and 1920 when the government tried to eliminate many local shrines in favour of a smaller number of large central ones. The prestige of Tsubaki Grand Shrine was such that even the fanatical elements of government were unwilling to tamper with it to excess.
My field was the Faculty of Shinto Studies. I studied the classics, the Kojiki and the Nihonshoki and the correct methods of performing Shinto rituals. I also studied Kotodamagaku the scientific method of studying. Kotodama, the study of the origins of the meaning and use of words by reference to their sound and soul - a kind of broad hermeneutic approach peculiar to the way Japanese language is used. I graduated and received a Diploma that certified me a priest and I became Negi at Tsubaki Shrine under my father.
There were no overnight miracles and my life did not change drastically. First of all, it was immediately after the end of the war had ended, and while my father had resisted much of the pressure from the Government Ministry concerned with State Shinto, many people had mixed feelings, of not some misgivings about Shinto. In any case, they were not in a position to visit the Shrine or make donations. They were for the most part so intent on winning the struggle for survival that they had for the time being, almost totally forgotten the spiritual things that belong to their peace. Money, hard to come by was spent only on food and the other absolutely basic necessities of life.
As I worked at the shrine, I really had very little to do and when the village headman came to me and asked me to help him run the village credit association, I was happy to comply with his request. The way ahead was still not clear, but I felt that there could be little harm in broadening my knowledge and experience as well as in helping the people of the village, even indirectly to cope with and overcome their hardships. I learned many things, and indeed felt that since it was one of my major activities at the time, I should work to qualify myself better. I therefore took up the study of business administration, and studied to pass the required tests for diplomas and licenses.
After this, I was asked if I would be interested in becoming an elected member of the village assembly. So, although admittedly at the local level and in a micro way, I entered the realm of politics also. I ran for election of the assembly of what was in those days called Tsubaki Village. I was still only 26 at the time, but I was duly elected with the largest number of votes. I suspect I felt a little too proud at having been elected a member of the assembly, but then I guess that most of the members were a bit pompous and full of their own importance. Still it was a useful experience. We were able to acquire foodstuffs like sugar and other commodities that were expensive and these we distributed among the people. I think I learned a lot about life, community and human nature from the experience of being an elected village representative in the assembly. The village then consisted of about 600 houses and around 200 people. Tsubaki village was later annexed to Suzuka City.
Yamamoto-cho where the shrine is located was one of the six districts within the village. It retained its title as it does to the present.
Japanese communities are organized and laid out for administrative purposes as follows. Apart from the Tokyo Metropolitan known as Tokyo-To, the largest unit is a city or shi after which comes the town or machi. The smallest unit is village or mura. Parts of a village may be variously designated, but cho is the most common. The organizing of cities is similar, with blocks or areas being numbered rather than streets named and houses numbered. This is principally because demolition and reconstruction are frequent and it is better to designate and identify land areas rather than associate addresses with streets or buildings as is the practice in the West where buildings and streets have more permanence. Yamamoto-cho, named after the Yamamoto family gives some indication of the prestige and tradition of a family having the surrounding area named after them. In the modern world, only the Saud family have a country named after them!
The credit association that was designed originally to get necessary consumer goods to the village people at the best prices slowly evolved into an agricultural co-operative and this is what sent me off studying business administration. I continued to serve the assembly and the co-operative for a total of eight years until 1955. I would be conducting shrine rituals one day and then working as a political administrator the next. My work as a priest was limited and also rather amateurish because my experiences there were extremely limited. However, the training in business administration stood me in good stead when I came to be concerned with shrine management. In addition to that I certainly came to understand the heart of natural man and his egoistic tendencies.
The villagers suggested that I return to the shrine and devote myself fully to the task of becoming a priest in reality rather than in name. They argued that excessive involvement in the more mundane levels of life and being exclusively preoccupied with commercial concerns in the long term would make my soul less open to the promptings of the spirit. I considered everything carefully and made the decision in April 1955 to resign from the assembly. Although the shrine was very poor, I was determined to give up every other kind of outside commitment and devote myself exclusively to the work of Tsubaki Grand Shrine. I had reached the point of no return. I had quite carefully and consciously devoted the rest of my life to the search for inner truth and understanding. I would try to discover what indeed the tradition of Shinto that I had inherited was in reality and what the life and work of a priest should be.
The problem was how to achieve that understanding. I therefore decided that I must first undertake kugyo , a kind of ascetic discipline aimed at steadily purifying the soul so that it comes closer to the life of the Kami.
During this time, I was preoccupied with many affairs of daily life nevertheless, and I even wrote an essay on the production and sales of crops for which I was awarded first prize. The noise and distractions of day time business was the chief motivating factor that encouraged me to undertake the discipline. Between the ending of one day and the beginning of the next, i.e. between the hours of 11.00 pm and 1.00 am I sought the solitude of the waterfall and the spirituality it could generate.
No matter how busy I was, I kept my discipline. I donned the fundoshi or loin cloth and tied the hachimaki or headband around my head and lit a fire near the fall.
After the proper exercises designed to shake up the soul and after other rituals of preparation were complete, I purified myself and entered the waterfall to commune with the Kami. When I felt ready, I would then enter the old haiden and sit in silence and contemplate the meaning of an old *noorito* or some words of ceremonial. In that way I performed chinkon and my soul accordingly became calm and I could gradually return to the world around me.
During the years in which I performed the discipline on a regular basis, I had many amazing experiences. My consciousness reached levels of awareness that expressed themselves in many strange ways. I recollect that as the water was coursing over my arms that I saw a huge black centipede crawling down my shoulder and finally being washed away in the water at the bottom of the fall. I have no doubt that in some way this represented some unconscious removal of impurities that took the symbolic form of a large centipede or mukade in Japanese. These creatures here only appear in old and decayed wood and of course are dangerous because of the venom they carry. It was a traumatic experience but one that was teaching me how the process of renewal and purification was slowly beginning to take place. On another occasion I recollect having a vision of the morning sun, rising in all its brightness and majesty, as I stood there at midnight.
When we perform the ritual of misogi harai, as it is called, we stand under the waterfall taking the weight of water on the back of the neck and allowing it to then cover us and run down, taking our impurities with it.
We shout the words:
"Harai tamae kiyomi tamae - rokonshojo"
"Purify my soul - wash my soul - purify the six elements of existence".
I think that my experiences testify not only to the efficacy of misogi but also to the way in which I was gradually being changed by the discipline into the kind of priest who could feel and experience the meaning of the Kami in life and the process by which human beings are able to rediscover the best that has been in them, but hidden by the layers of impurity that life and its experiences can spread over it. What I experienced is not in any sense unique. Japanese have practised misogi for centuries with similar results as have many people who are not Japanese. I think anyone could have the same kind of enlightening and stimulating experiences, and I think it is one way in which to cultivate human spirituality.
I continued my discipline for ten years until 1965 when I really felt the cumulative effect of those determined years. The first sign of the changes that were taking place and of the person I was destined to become appeared in rather an interesting and usual way.
During that time, in 1957, I attended a Conference of the five Prefectures of the Tokai region, namely Gifu, Aichi, Mie, Nagano and Shizuoka at Atsuta *Jingu in Nagoya. I was representing Mie Prefecture which is why I was present at the Conference. There was a session at which we were invited to speak of our various experiences. I spoke about my experience with misogi and the waterfall and to my surprise was awarded the first prize for the presentation. I was then asked by the authorities to become a lecturer in Shinto for Mie Prefecture, although I was still in the middle of my gyo at that time. I gradually began to replace my father in these areas of activity and I lectured quite frequently around the Prefecture. To prepare for these lectures I read a great many books and in this way supplemented my education and deepened my own understanding of the great tradition I had inherited.