Prison release

Prison release

Feeling of thankfulness rising in me.

On the days when the temperature fell below minus twenty-five degrees and we were let off our work in the open air, we consequently had an extra holiday. On some such occasions, when walking about the camp courtyard, I often felt a sense of gratitude welling up in my heart. It may seem a strange thing to say, considering the very adverse situation we were in: the strict confinement, anxiety about the very uncertain future, with only the barest necessities of life, and no possibility of being able to do what one might wish. But it is a fact that on a number of different occasions I had this feeling of thankfulness rising in me. It was not gratitude for any particular thing, but a sort of diffuse happiness, like the light of dawn coming up in the midst of darkness. I suppose that at the root of these experiences was what had come from following the way of Zen.

During the imprisonment of two years and some months, I dreamed of my teacher Gyodo Roshi only once. I saw him in a large study, sitting at a desk with a book placed on it. He said to me: “I want to give you this book, but as yet it wouldn’t be any good.” I remember that in the dream I had looked for, and brought to give to the Master, a pair of sandals with white thongs. I had this dream in 1946 on the night of October 15, which is the traditionally observed anniversary of the death of the Third Zen Patriarch in China, Songtsan, who wrote the poem “Faith in the Heart.” It was of course chance, but had deep meaning for me, as I was wholly determined to give my life to Buddhism, and with that resolve alone sustain myself in the sufferings of imprisonment.

Every morning I used to recall the verse of Master Menzan:

When heart is in accord with heart,
And remembering with every thought,
There is a meeting every day—
Regardless of presence or absence.

I turned toward the sky in the direction of my home country, and prayed for Master Gyodo Furukawa and for Dr. Kitaro Nishida Japan’s greatest philosopher). After we arrived in Russia, someone told me that Dr. Nishida died, but I had not believed it.

The first part of the imprisonment in Russia had been at Patema, a prison camp situated among forests and fields; the last half was in a camp near Moscow at a place called Marshansk. It was from this last that we were finally repatriated to Japan. Our Siberia-bound train pulled out of Marshansk station in 1947, again on October 15, the anniversary of Songtsan’s death. It was no more than coincidence, but once more I could not help feeling that it was somehow a confirmation of my resolve to give my life to Buddhism as a priest. And so, we returned to Japan.



Similar Posts