WHEN I was in the navy, we got ten days of leave a year. We were divided into two groups, one of which took leave at the end of the year and the other of which took it during the New Year holiday. Everyone but me wanted to be in the latter group. I always helped at the Ishihara pickles shop during leave and was happy to trade with someone when I was in the New Year group because I preferred free time at the end of the year, the busiest season for the shop.
After my discharge, I went back to work with Mr. Ishihara; but times were bad, and the shop was not doing well. To help out, I suggested to Mr. Ishihara that I pull a wagon about selling pickles from door to door. Of course, the work was much more exhausting than waiting on customers in the shop, but it increased our income. Somehow, the shop held on.
But beyond the work and the money, there was something about pulling the wagon that gave me a pleasure difficult to experience except under such circumstances: the chance to meet all kinds of people. As I drew my heavy load along the streets, people that I gradually came to know called out to encourage me. Just hearing them made my heart lighter.
Almost every day I went to a government-housing settlement where the guards from Nakano Prison and their families lived. Almost all the wives were engaged in some kind of cottage industry during the day. At noon, they all came out of their doors with buckets to draw water from a communal well. I often helped them. On rainy days, when I saw a wife putting up an umbrella and about to go to the well, I would quickly take her bucket and do her chore for her. She would thank me, and I would go on to the next house-wife. This made me feel good. Lunch hour was my busiest time, but the exchange of good will that I experienced in helping these people was more important than business. Spiritual connections developing from this kind of relationship can happen anywhere and any time and are a source of indescribable pleasure.
To catch the attention of customers, while pulling my wagon I sang the songs I had learned as a child in our village and a number of currently popular tunes. My voice was loud, and gradually people came to call me the Singing Pickles Man.
At that time, Motoyuki Naganuma, who was the first chief director of Rissho Kosei-kai, was a young boy working in the sweet-potato shop of his aunt Mrs. Masa Naganuma. I have heard from Naganuma that his aunt was a fan of the Singing Pickles Man.
Another of my fans was the wife of a guard living in the government-housing settlement. This group of buildings was arranged in a long line. It would have been time-consuming and tiring to pull my wagon from one door to another the whole length of it. Instead, I parked the wagon about half the way down the settlement and started singing. Soon, in reply to my voice, the housewives would begin coming out of their houses, carrying bowls for the pickles they wanted to buy. The louder I sang, the more ladies and bowls appeared.
One day, the housewife who was a special fan of the Singing Pickles Man stopped me in the street, complimented me on my singing, and asked me to sing at the prison wall for the prisoners. She said she had talked the matter over with her husband, a guard, who thought it was a good idea. I promised to do as she asked. When the time came, I stood at the base of the wall and sang as many songs as I could remember for the prisoners working in the fields on the other side. I later learned that they heard my singing and that it made them happy.
The affairs of the pickles shop began looking up to the extent that Ishihara proposed we expand and run the business together as a partnership. Since there were not enough hands to do all the work, I wrote to my home village and asked them to send my cousin Sai, whose name was later changed to Naoko, to come to help. I knew her well because we had worked in the fields and played at festivals together since childhood. Of course, inviting her to help us in the shop was tacitly asking for her hand in marriage. Both families, all our relatives, and Sai herself were in agreement with the proposal.
On January 7, 1930, after she had been assisting us in the shop for a year, we were married in a modest ceremony. Ishihara was the go-between. Sai's elder brother and mine came to Tokyo from the country. My cousin Takashi, who is a former chief administrator of Kosei Hospital, attended, but that was all. In our part of the country, it is traditional to give the eldest son a splendid wedding, with feasting and drinking lasting for about three days. Second sons, no matter whether they work at home or elsewhere, are required by unwritten law to contribute to the upkeep of the family until they are twenty-five. After that, they are more or less told to find themselves wives and set up on their own as best they can. Though our ceremony included only the inner circle of the family, I splurged to buy a formal kimono complete with an outer coat (haori), decorated with our family crest, and the traditional skirtlike outer garment called a hakama. Interestingly enough, those clothes stood me in good stead later.
As newlyweds, we did not enjoy much of a honeymoon. From morning to night, we worked in the same shop without a real salary because of the joint nature of the business. We lived in a small rented apartment with little more than a chest made of apple crates. Our most cherished hope was to have a house to ourselves as soon as possible. To this end, we worked very hard.
But in November of the following year, our oldest daughter, Tomoko, was born; and it became impossible for my wife to work any longer. Ishihara rented a small house to us; but as time passed, with one thing and another, it became hard to keep the accounts straight. Ishihara suddenly said he wanted to leave. I was annoyed by his arbitrary departure, but there was nothing to do but go into business on my own. Still, I regret that we parted on bad terms.
I set up a pickles shop on Hongo Street in Nakano. Removing the tatami and floorboards from one room of an ordinary family house, I made an earthen-floored room, where I stored the pickles. In addition to our main stock - pickled scallions and red ginger, salted plums, and a variety pickle called Fukujin-zuke - we sold sweet boiled beans and flavored and cooked sea tangle, both great favorites in Japan. I had about ten wooden barrels for the scallions, which my wife trimmed and cleaned while I was out pulling the pickles wagon. When I came home in the evening, I flavored the scallions and made other preparations. My selling route covered most of northwestern Tokyo.
Our products were homemade, and I handled all the sales, which meant that we could sell at a low price. Furthermore, the customers liked our goods. With the steady income gained through pickles sales, we stabilized our way of life and slowly began to save a little.
I wanted to become the biggest and best pickles dealer in all Japan. When, as a sailor, I had helped in Ishihara's shop, at the end of the day, we would sit down, have a small bottle of sake each, and talk or sing. Ishihara often said to me, "Niwano, I want you to become the biggest pickles dealer in the country. You can do it if you try." After I became independent and the business began going fairly well, I cherished that dream all the more ardently. I even visited the factory of a large pickles company that supplied the army and navy. But at just about that time, I reached a turning point in my life.
A month after her birth, our daughter was stricken with a severe inflammation of the inner ear. An operation became necessary. Naturally, my wife and I were shocked that our firstborn should have to have a hole cut in her skull. We were further worried about her recovery.
Near our house was a friendly, good man named Yamagata, who ran a small shop selling a popular snack food called oden. One day, as he and I were discussing my daughter, he said, "Look, Niwano, doctors are all right, but why not give Tengu-fudo a try? They really do some wonderful things. If you don't believe me, go and have a look for yourself."
Not far from us a woman living in a row house worshiped Fudo Myo-o (Acala), a Buddhist deity believed to protect people from all evils. She practiced faith healing and Shugen-do, a Buddhist system that rejects study and doctrines and advocates rigorous physical training and discipline, often in the wilds of the mountains. A kind of shaman, this devout woman, whose name was Umeno Tsunaki, chanted incantations and prayed in her own house. I decided to follow Yamagata's advice and called on her.
After praying in front of the deity and conducting a ritual purification, she suddenly blurted out to me, "They will remove the bandages on the twenty-eighth of next month." She then instructed me on several things in daily life that I would have to observe and ordered me to come to religious services every evening without fail. Following her instructions, I visited every evening, prayed before the deity, and listened to her incantations. Whether this had anything to do with it I cannot say, but my daughter's postoperative condition progressed well. The doctor was not worried. But still he did not remove the bandages.
As I continued going to Mrs. Tsunaki's, I developed interest in the Shugen-do system. After all, it was amazing that an uneducated woman should be able to diagnose the sicknesses of all kinds of different people and then to cure them. Though I could not explain it, I had seen proof that she could do these things. I had not reached the point where I deeply believed; still, I was convinced that this woman had something.
One evening she ordered me to go to the Narita Fudo of the temple Shinsho-ji on the following day, which was the memorial of Fudo. Rising early, I did as she told me. When I returned home, the bandages were gone from our daughter's head. When my wife had taken her to the doctor that day, he had said the bandages were no longer needed and had substituted a small patch of sticking plaster and gauze. It was the twenty-eighth; the uncanny woman had been absolutely right.
That evening, wrapping up a small amount of money to give her as a token of gratitude, I went to see Mrs. Tsunaki. Often people abandon religions that they adopt for a specific purpose as soon as that purpose has been achieved. But I had been interested in religious systems since the days when I had come into contact with the Organization of National Faith and Virtue. That night, I requested that Mrs. Tsunaki make me one of her students. Among her many disciples, who included her husband, some people often spoke of harsh training, like pouring buckets of cold water over their bodies outdoors during the coldest part of the winter. They claimed that such discipline induced a kind of trance and enabled them to have visions of the deity.
For a while, my training was limited to prayers and devotions. Nothing was said of the cold-water baths, until one day I brought the subject up myself. Mrs. Tsunaki said that she had already received word from the deity that I was to undergo this training but that the deity had been waiting until I should want to do so myself. Slightly surprised, I asked, "How many buckets full?" "Thirty-five!"
Wearing nothing but a thin white kimono, I went into the garden; knelt by the well; drew water; and repeating the Esoteric Buddhist formulas I had been taught, poured the water over my head. The cold nearly made me jump. I trembled all over, but I drew more water and continued pouring. Losing myself in the operation, I continued until at last I had emptied thirty-five buckets. By that time, my back was as numb as if it had been frozen. But when the ordeal was over, I realized that I had been very serious and spiritually calm and unified. If this training is repeated daily, it becomes easier to enter the state of spiritual unification because conditioned reflexes, or autosuggestion, lead one into a realm that I think is the first step on the road to the state of concentration referred to as samadhi in Buddhist terminology.
While I was undergoing this training, the deity ordered that I abstain from the five cereals - including, of course, rice, the staple of the Japanese diet. I was allowed buckwheat flour, toasted and then kneaded with hot water, salt, and sugar. Though I had to remain on this fare for a week or even three weeks, it was easy for a person like me, raised on simple country food.
Giving up all things that have come into contact with fire was a little more difficult. Once again, the staple of my diet was buckwheat flour; but it was now mixed with cold, not hot, water. Further, since heat is used in their preparation, I could have neither salt nor sugar. Everything that I ate was raw. Still, I usually go through with something once I have made up my mind, and I went through with this. (I realize that many people find such abstentions foolish. I do not think they should be attempted by the average person. On the other hand, abstaining from such things as cigarettes, alcohol, and gambling is by no means a bad idea.) Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, was enlightened to the futility of ascetic rigors. But it must be remembered that before his enlightenment he subjected himself to superhuman hardships for six years, eating no more than one grain of rice and one sesame seed a day.
I feel that the religious disciplines I underwent before I came into contact with the true Buddhism had meaning for me. For the sake of the truth, the Law, and the happiness of others, a person must abandon himself, cut himself off from his desires, and bring life to its limit - that is, to the edge of death - at least once in his lifetime. I do not recommend that everyone make the attempt to do this. People who are born to a mission of this kind will find the chance and the motivation sooner or later.
In the system I was studying, ascetics have ranks. Although I was unaware of it, while I was undergoing this course of disciplines, I was raised one rank. Step by step, Mrs. Tsunaki announced to me that I had been given permission by the deity to hold the symbolic wand, then I was given the right to hold the ritual paper ornaments, and then I was allowed to wear the ritual hakama. This promotion raised me to the rank of an assistant master. None of her other students had advanced beyond the stage where they wore the simple white kimono. I felt pity for all of them, but especially for Mrs. Tsunaki's husband.
He did not seem to be a bad man, but for some reason the deity was extremely strict with him. One day, after he had finished the course of abstention from the five cereals and was praying in front of the divinity, he suddenly felt a great pain throughout his body. His face went bluish. When questioned, the deity announced that Mr. Tsunaki had grumbled to himself during his fast from the five cereals. This was so reprehensible that he was ordered to abstain for one month from things that had come into contact with fire. But as soon as he had managed to complete one course of abstention, there was always another for him. He was engaged in ascetic discipline the year round.
As an assistant master, I was empowered to perform incantations for the sake of faith healing, and I did so with great success. I cured people that doctors had given up. People who came to me limping, walked away sound after my incantations.
I had no idea why I could do these things. I had never gone into a trance. I had never seen or heard the deity. In my own eyes, I was nothing more than a perfectly ordinary human being, a seller of pickles. Nonetheless, miraculous things happened to me, one after the other.
For example, I became skillful at the fire ceremony, which involves placing lighted candles on the exposed affected parts of an ailing person's body and reciting Esoteric Buddhist formulas to effect a cure. A man with a back disorder lay on the floor, face down. He wore only a white kimono, which we pulled down to reveal his back. A bundle of from thirty to fifty candles - one and a half centimeters in diameter and fifteen centimeters in length - was placed on the exposed skin and lighted. As the candles burned, I chanted incantations. Before long, the flame from the bundle grew to as much as twenty centimeters in height. It was very hot, and the scalding wax dripped down on the man's skin. But by means of recitations of Esoteric Buddhist formulas and by mental concentration, I reduced the height of the flame to a normal two or three centimeters. This fire ceremony was especially impressive when used on a mentally ill patient. In such cases, as many as three hundred and seventy candles were placed on the person's head. This task was too much for me alone. Mrs. Tsunaki, her husband, and I exerted our best efforts; and when the red flame from the candles rose to thirty centimeters, we were able to reduce it again to two or three centimeters.
In school, I had always tried to follow our principal's advice to be kind to people. Nothing in the world is as pleasant to me as helping others. This is why I derived such profound joy from curing people who had been suffering.
Every day, without fail, after my work selling pickles, I went to Tengu-fudo, where I usually found from seven to fifteen people. Sitting around the hibachi brazier with those people who had already finished their incantations, I would share all kinds of ideas. When illnesses were discussed I would apply the rokuyo system that I had learned while working for Ishihara in the years before my military service. I would ask whether the person in question had done such and such a thing at such and such a time. It was interesting to note how many times I was right. Gradually, the rokuyo discussions became so popular that people would jostle each other to get a place next to me beside the hibachi. But Mrs. Tsunaki was not jealous. She was happy that the membership of Tengu-fudo was increasing and treated me respectfully as an assistant master. Though I had to get up early in the morning for work, surprisingly I was able to stay up at those sessions until as late as midnight. But none of this was working to my financial benefit.
Life was not easy for the Tsunaki family. Mr. Tsunaki was a day laborer; but in those times the unemployed were so numerous that it was almost impossible for him to find work. He ultimately came to rely on his wife for support. They had five or six children.
As might be expected of a shaman, Mrs. Tsunaki was completely uninterested in money. Her Tengu-fudo gradually gained in popularity until she had an income about the same as that of my pickles business. Still, the family was always in straits because, as soon as money came in, she would spend lavishly. They would eat and drink up all their funds. Then gas and light bills would accumulate unpaid. Often gas and electricity were turned off until I paid the bills. Mr. Tsunaki was concerned about the situation and asked me to say something to his wife. Of course, this could not be done until all the other members had gone home. Late at night, I would kneel on the tatami in front of her and urge her to be less of a spendthrift. Mr. Tsunaki would join in my pleas. Finally, with a glum face, she would nod agreement. But our words never had a lasting effect, for after only a little while she would be spending wildly again. But what could I say? It was her money.
Steadily increasing membership - as many as fifty or sixty people daily - made the small room where the Tengu-fudo meetings had been held impossibly cramped. A room was added to the house, but even that was insufficient. A rich female member of the group offered to lend a thousand yen - a very large sum in those days - for the construction of a new headquarters. With that much money, a small house could be erected. Mrs. Tsunaki was elated. I was frightened because I foresaw trouble. If she borrowed and did not alter her spendthrift ways, the situation might become very messy. My anticipation was aggravated by my own responsibility. Only a short while earlier, in order to stabilize the Tsunaki way of life, I had proposed that a membership organization, called the Fudo Lecture Group, be established. I assumed the task of managing the accounts of the organization, which meant that if the undertaking failed, I would be held responsible. I met the lady who offered the loan, to discuss the matter. Her conditions were comparatively easy; and feeling that there was no other road to take, I decided to counsel going ahead with the plan. I became the leader in leasing land from one of the members, negotiating with the carpenters, and seeing the construction of a small training hall through to completion.
Mrs. Tsunaki had become so taken with my way of working that she insisted I give up the pickles business and become a full-time ascetic in the Tengu-fudo organization. She promised to set me up as the head of a branch training hall.
But I did not like the idea. I had been able to help her and devote time to the organization as an amateur eager to be of assistance. But I reacted strongly against the idea that my whole livelihood would depend on this kind of work. I flatly refused, saying that I preferred the pickles business.
Still she insisted. With my spiritual talents, she claimed, I could become capable of curing any disease I persevered. I would be able to devote my entire life to helping people. She said she had already received notification from the deity about my success in this work.
Helping people is one of my weaknesses; and when she began talking this way, I wavered. Business seemed a more sensible, stable way to make a living. But . . . I could not make up my mind. I had no one to discuss the problem with. Then I remembered hearing about a man named Seiko Kobayashi, who was a great expert at making predictions on the basis of people's names. He was said to be one hundred percent accurate in all cases. Thinking the matter over a while, I decided to consult him to determine which was correct, my judgment or the information received from the Tengu-fudo deity.
One day while on my selling rounds, visited him and was amazed at what I heard. Upon no more than hearing my name, he related to me all kinds of absolutely accurate information not only about me, but also about my parents, brothers, sister, and other relatives for two or three generations back. Harboring a slight doubt, I gave him the names of some friends, and he analyzed them with equal accuracy. Then I got down to the problem I had come to talk over.
He at once said, "Don't get involved with that. It's all fake!" When I asked why, he replied that the apparently miraculous practices of the Shugen-do system were no more than trickery. Had I been only an outsider, I might have accepted what he said unquestioningly. But I knew that what I felt and my own experiences were not fake. I told him what I could do, including the shortening of flames by means of no more than mental concentration. He rejected what I said. The argument grew heated. In spite of the other visitors waiting to see him and in spite of my own pickles wagon standing at the door, we continued talking for four hours. At last he said, "Anyway, it's sad to see a young man of your caliber sucked into Shugen-do. Why don't you learn name interpretation instead? I'll teach you everything I know."
The orderly name-interpretation system, founded on rules, was more attractive to me than mysterious spiritual abilities; and I was on the verge of asking to be made a student. Then I learned that Ishihara, from whom I had parted on unpleasant terms, had given up the Organization of National Faith and Virtue and had become a member of Koyu-kai, the name-interpretation organization. Because I knew it would be embarrassing for us both to come together under these circumstances, I abandoned the idea of joining. But since I was unwilling to give in entirely - after four hours of disputation - Mr. Kobayashi kindly sent me the monthly pamphlets of the group. I studied them and soon mastered the techniques of name interpretation, though once again, it was only a hobby. I had no intentions of putting my knowledge to practical use. Nonetheless, on my daily work rounds, whenever I met people who were troubled or suffering from sickness, I used the rokuyo method and name interpretation to analyze their problems and to advise them about possible solutions. Interestingly enough, I was right in many cases.
When I had refused to become a full-time ascetic in the Tengu-fudo organization, Mrs. Tsunaki had abruptly said, "All right, then don't come around here any more!" At just that time, my family and I moved to the Suginami district. This gave me a chance to leave the group gracefully. I had spent two years in training with them. As I said earlier, I do not consider that time wasted. I am still grateful to Mrs. Tsunaki today.
Copyright © 2009 by Rissho Kosei-kai. All right reserved.