As A Peace-Loving Global Citizen: Episode 15

As A Peace-Loving Global Citizen: An Autobiography by Rev. Sun Myung Moon
Chapter 2: My Heart Flows With a River of Tears
Befriending Laborers by Sharing Their Suffering, pg 52-55

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Befriending Laborers by Sharing Their Suffering

Just as I had done in Seoul, I made it a point to go everywhere in Tokyo. When my friends would go to places such as Nikko to see the beautiful scenery, I would prefer to stay behind and walk through all the neighborhoods of Tokyo. I found that it was a city that looked fancy on the outside but was actually filled with impoverished people. Again I gave all the money I received from home to the poor people.

Back then everyone in Japan was hungry too. Among the Korean students there were many who were in financial difficulty. When I received my allotment of meal tickets each month I would give them all away to students who couldn’t afford them and told them, “Eat. Eat all you want.” I didn’t worry about earning money. I could go anywhere and work as a day laborer and be fed. I enjoyed earning money and using the money to help pay the tuition of students who didn’t have money. Helping others and giving them food to eat filled me with energy.

After I had given away all the money I had, I would work as a deliveryman using a bicycle-drawn cart. I went to every district of Tokyo with that cart. Once, in Ginza, with its dazzling lights, I was carrying a telephone pole on my cart and it turned over in the middle of an intersection. Everyone around ran for their lives. Because of these kinds of experiences I still know the geography of Tokyo like the back of my hand.

I was a laborer among laborers and a friend to laborers. Just like the laborers who smelled of sweat, I would go to the work sites and work until the sweat was pouring down my body. They were my brothers, and I didn’t mind the terrible smells. I shared sleeping quilts with them that were so filthy that black lice crawled across them in a line formation. I didn’t hesitate to grasp hands that were caked with dirt. Their sweat mixed with grime was filled with an irresistible warmth of heart. It was their warm hearts that I found so attractive.

Primarily I worked as a laborer at the Kawasaki steel mill and shipyard. In the shipyard there were barges used to haul coal. We would form teams of three laborers each and work until one o’clock in the morning to fill a barge with one hundred twenty tons of coal. We Koreans could do in one night what it took the Japanese three days to accomplish.

There were people at some work sites who extorted the blood and sweat of the laborers. Often these were the foremen who directly managed the laborers. They would take thirty percent of the money earned by the laborers they managed and keep it for themselves. The laborers were powerless to do anything about this. The foremen would exploit the weak but curry favor with those who were strong. I became so angry with one foreman that I finally went to him with two friends and demanded that he pay the workers their full wages. “If you make someone work, then pay him exactly what he is owed,” I told him.

He still refused, so we went to him a second day and even a third. We were determined to keep up the pressure until he relented. Finally I kicked him and he even fell down. I usually am a quiet and peaceable person, but when I become angry the stubborn character of my younger years comes back.

The Kawasaki steel mill had vats used to store sulfuric acid. Workers would clean these by going into them and making the raw material flow out. The fumes from the sulfuric acid were extremely toxic, and a person could not remain inside for more than fifteen minutes. Even in such deplorable working conditions, the workers risked their lives in order to have food to eat. Food was that precious.

I was always hungry. I was careful, though, to never eat a meal for my own sake. I felt there needed to be a specific reason for me to eat a meal. So as I would sit down to each meal I would ask myself if my hunger was worthy. “Did I really work hard? Did I work for myself, or for a public purpose?” I would face a bowl of rice and tell it, “I am eating you so that I can do tasks that are more glorious and more for the public good than what I did yesterday.” Then the rice would smile back at me with its approval. In those instances, the time spent eating a meal was mystical and joyful. When I didn’t feel qualified to talk this way, I would skip the meal no matter how hungry I might be. As a result, there were not many days when I would have even two meals.

I didn’t limit myself to two meals a day because I had a small appetite. In fact, once I began to eat there was no limit to the amount I could consume. I once ate eleven large bowls of udon (noodles) in one sitting. Another time I ate seven bowls of a dish consisting of chicken and a fried egg over rice. Despite this appetite I kept up my custom of not eating lunch and limiting myself to two meals a day until I was more than thirty years old.

The sensation of hunger is a type of nostalgia. I knew very well about the nostalgia of hunger, but I believed it was the least I could do to sacrifice one meal a day for the sake of the world. I also never allowed myself to wear new clothes. No matter how cold it might get, I would not heat my room. When it was extremely cold I used a newspaper to cover myself; it felt as warm as a quilt made of silk. I am very familiar with the value of a sheet of newspaper.

At times I would simply go live for a while in an area of Shinagawa where poor people lived. I slept with them, using rags for cover. On warm sunny days I picked lice from their hair and ate rice with them. There were many prostitutes on the streets of Shinagawa. I would listen to them tell me about themselves, and I became their best friend without ever drinking a drop of liquor. Some people claim they need to be drunk in order to speak candidly about what is on their mind, but that is just an excuse. When these women realized that I was sincere in my sympathy for them, even without drinking any liquor, they opened their hearts to me and told me their troubles.

I worked in many different jobs during my studies in Japan. I was a janitor in an office building. I wrote letters for illiterate people. I worked at various job sites and was a foreman. I was a fortune teller. When I needed money quickly, I wrote calligraphy and sold it. I never fell behind in my studies, however. I believed that all these things were part of my training process. I did all sorts of jobs and met all sorts of people. In the process I learned a lot about people. Because I had this experience I can now take one look at a person and have a good idea of what the person does for a living and whether he is a good person. I don’t have to weigh various thoughts in my head, because my body will tell me first.

I still believe that to develop good character a person needs to experience many difficulties before turning thirty. People need to go down into the crucible of despair at the bottom of human existence and experience what that is like. People need to discover new possibilities in the midst of hell. It is only when climbing out of the depths of despair and making a new determination that we can be reborn as people able to pioneer a new future.

We should not look only in one direction. We should look at both those who are in a higher position and those lower. We should know to look east, west, south, and north. To live a successful life depends on how well we see with our mind’s eye. To see well with the mind’s eye we must have many different experiences and remember them. Even in the most difficult situations we should maintain our composure, demonstrate warmth toward others, be self-reliant, and adapt well to any circumstance.

A person of good character must be accustomed to rising to a high position and then quickly falling to a low position. Most people are afraid of falling from a high position, so they do everything they can to preserve it. However, water that does not flow becomes stagnant. A person who rises to a high position must be able to go back down and wait for the time to come up again. When the opportunity comes, he can rise to an even higher position than before. This is the type of person who can acquire a greatness that is admired by many people and is a great leader. These are the experiences that a person should have before turning thirty.

Today I tell young people to experience everything they can in the world. They need to directly or indirectly experience everything in the world, as if they were devouring an encyclopedia. It is only then that they can form their own identity. A person’s self-identity is his clear subjective nature. Once a person has the confidence to say, “I can go all around the country, and I will never come across a person who is capable of defeating me,” then he is ready to take on any task and have the confidence to accomplish it successfully. When a person lives life in this way, he will be successful. Success is assured. This is the conclusion I arrived at while living as a beggar in Tokyo.

I shared meals and slept with laborers in Tokyo, shared the grief of hunger with beggars, learned the hard life, and earned my doctorate in the philosophy of suffering. Only then was I able to understand God’s will as He works to bring salvation to humanity. It is important to become the king of suffering before age thirty. The way to gain the glory of the Kingdom of Heaven is to become a king of suffering.

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