Translating Japanese

Tempu’s story

This is something I shared with my guru siblings.
It is from a speech by Tempu Nakamura, a spiritual mentor from mid 20th century Japan.

He worked as a military spy during Russia-Japan war, but returned to Japan with tuberculosis in the lungs, which was a deadly disease without any remedies that time. He went around Japan visiting spiritual leaders, and then to America and Europe in search of the secret of life. People he met during this time include Orison Marden, Sarah Bernhardt and many other prominent figures of the time.

Then it was in Cairo in Egypt, where he was decided to return to Japan so he could at least die in his motherland, where he met his guru Karyappa. At the hotel where they were both staying, the guru saw him and told him, “Well you say you have tried everything, but I see you have not realised one important thing in life, which will save you. You better to follow me.” Some how Tempu did not ask back any questions and only said “Certainly”. During the three months travel following the guru to Kangchenjunga in the Himalayas, he never asked where they were going, which apparently pleased the guru. But once he reached the guru’s home place, he was unable to see him and was not taught anything for two months. The guru was a brahmin, and as a foreigner he was treated as a shudra. From here I will translate from the book.

Whatever mistake you make, you should not go and live in India. It’s ok if you were a brahmin, but if you go just like that, you will be put into shudra, then you are lower than dogs and cats. At our homes, anybody who love their dogs and cats so dearly would still not put their servants lower than the pets. The servants will leave! “Madam, may I have my meal?” “Wait a second. Only after the cat has eaten.” It won’t work.

But It works in India. In fact, if a shudra ate before pigs and dogs and sheep and cows, he will go into a big trouble. I was suddenly thrown into such a place where there was so much discrimination. Even when I could see him, I could not speak to him. As soon as I saw him, I had to put my heads down to the ground. Just like how a towner during Edo time would do to the Samurais.

This was not what I expected! What is going to happen? Day by day I thought, will he teach me today, will he teach me tomorrow? When two months were finally passing, I jumped out thinking, “That bastard, bringing me to this bloody place, what has he done to me? Nothing has happened in any of the days, and he taught me nothing. If he is not going to teach me, what is the point of staying here? I am going to talk to him today, no matter what, even if I were to be kicked out.”

Every morning, he used to walk through the corridor with ten disciples to see young students studying philosophy, to receive a kind of morning greetings, so-to-say in Japan. We shudras had no right to enter under the roof, so we all watched that from the garden. That morning, with my determination, I stood up just when he came in front of me. Then he smiled at me.

I thought “Gotcha” and said,
“May I ask you something?”
“What is it?”
“When will I be able to receive what you told me in Cairo?”
“What did I say in Cairo?”
“Oh, you told me that I am a person who can be saved. But I have forgotten one essential thing that is preventing me from it. You will teach me that, so I better follow you. Hearing this, I followed you all the way here.”
“Oh, that. I do remember.”
“When will you teach me?”
“I have been ready to teach you from the very next day of our arrival here.”
“Oh, I too have been ready to be taught from the next day of our arrival!”
“No, you are not right. Only I have been ready. Every day, as I saw your face, I saw that you were not ready, and I have been thinking when will you finally decide to really learn? I have wanted to ask you to be ready”
“I see. But that is not right. From the very day we reached here, I craved to be taught,”
“You pretend like that, but according to my inspiration, you are really not ready to be taught.”
“Yes, I am ready.”
“You are so stubborn! I know your heart much more than you do. I can show you right away. You fill up that cup with water and bring here.”

There is no such thing in Japan, but there is this cup about the size of a rice bowl with handles like a coffee cup on both sides. It is such a dry land, you don’t sweat even in the hottest time in summer. America is also like that. It feels odd for a Japanese to have no sweat in the hot, but anyway that is why there are these double layered cups made of clay everywhere. Even in the hottest time, the water in this cup is cold water.

I filled up the cup with water as he told me and brought it to him. Then he said,
“Bring a lot of hot water.”

So I left the cold water there and brought hot water. Then he told me,
“Put the hot water into the cold water.”

It was so ridiculous that I said,
“I am not aware how you think in this country, but a civilised race knows that if you pour hot water into a filled cup of water, both will spill out.”
I was quite annoyed, it is my bad habit.

Why is it a bad habit? Because I was often thinking in my stomach that I am from a civilised nation. Here, in a grassy land, not even a house for a long distance, most people were bear feet and lying down naked outside on the road. Aren’t they in fact like dogs and monkeys? These were the thoughts hovering over my head, that is why even to someone I regarded great, I could be making such sarcastic remarks.

Then he said,
“So you know it.”
“Yes I do.”
“Then you should understand what I said to you earlier.”
“What I said earlier and this are different matters.”
“No they are not. They are same.”
“I can no way agree that they are same.”
“I see. I did not think you were so stupid.”

This is what he said! I was a civilised race and was made fun of by a barbarian! So I said,
“May I know the reasons for your saying it.”

“I will. I have been seeing you every day from the next day we arrived thinking that I want to teach you, but inside your head, whatever good things I say, they will be spilled. Just like the cup filled with water. That is how I see. When will he come with the cup empty? Only if the cup is emptied, then if I pour the hot water in, the cup will be filled with hot water. That is what I have been thinking, but you do not come with the cup emptied. In your brain, there are all these useless reasons and logics. Even when I say something precious, can you receive it without any conditions? I will not do such a foolish thing as to give what will not be received. Do you understand?”

Now I saw it. I lost! I am a man like that. When I first came here two months ago, if anybody could tell me “You are going to learn, so empty your head.”
But anyway, I accepted deeply from my heart, “I see.”
Then he smiled at me.
“Now you understood. Ok, come to me from tonight. Come like a newborn baby.”
What a beautiful word, don’t you think? The two months seemed like a waste, but it was actually not. For the rest of the two years, I learned the most precious and basic truth, the kind of thing I am going to talk to you now.

Translated by Paromita
from Chiyo Uno’s edition of Tempu’s speech.

Just as a note, you might find some of his expressions rough and arrogant, but I would say it is rather his expression of humility by showing himself an ignorant person… in fact it is also the old Edo (old name of Tokyo) style of communication.
I won’t elaborate about him here more, but how he keeps coming back to the story with his guru is very touchingly guru-shishya kind and sweet.

Apparently it was in 1913 when Tempu left his guru for Japan.

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