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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. I would give all the money that I received from home to the poor people.

Back then, everyone was hungry. Among the Korean students, too, there were many who were in financial difficulty. When I would receive 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 I would 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, when it turned over the middle of an intersection. Everyone around ran for their lives. Because of my experiences then, 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 and stale urine, I would go to the work sites and work until the sweat was pouring down by body. They were my brothers, and so I didn't mind the terrible smells. I shared with them sleeping quilts that were so filthy that black lice crawled across them in line formation. I didn't hesitate to grasp hands that were caked with dirt. Their sweat mixed with grime was filled with 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 120 tons of coal. We Koreans could do in one night what it took the Japanese three days to accomplish. We worked hard to show them what Koreans were capable of.

There were people at work sites who extorted the blood and sweat of the laborers. Often, these were the foremen who directly managed the laborers. They would take 30 percent of the money earned by the laborers they managed, and kept 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 them exactly what they are

owed," I told him.

He still refused after one day, so we went to him a second day and even a third day. We were determined to keep up the pressure until he relented. Finally, I kicked him, and made him fall down. I am normally a quiet and passive person, but when I become angry the stubborn character of my younger years comes back and I can kick someone.

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 15 minutes. Even in such deplorable working conditions, the workers risked their lives to do their jobs so they would have food to eat. Food was so important that people were willing to risk their lives for it.

I was always hungry. I was careful, though, never to eat a meal for my own sake alone. I felt there needed to be a specific reason for me to eat a particular meal. So as I would sit down to each meal, I would ask myself the reasons for my hunger. "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. In those instances 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, that 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 would begin to eat, there was no limit to the amount I could consume. I once ate 11 large bowls ofudon in one sitting. Another time, I ate seven bowls of a dish consisting of chicken meat and a fried egg over rice. Despite this appetite, I kept 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 would use a newspaper to cover myself, and that 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 and ate their 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 candidly about what is on their mind, but that is just an excuse. When they realized that I was sincere in my sympathy for them, even without drinking any liquor, these women 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 in various job sites and was a foreman. I was a fortune teller. When I needed money quickly, I wrote calligraphy and sold it. 1 never tell 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, 1 learned a lot about people. Because 1 had this experience, I can

now take one look at a person and have 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 for a person to develop good character, he needs to experience many difficulties before he turns thirty. He needs to go down into the crucible of despair that is at the bottom of human existence and experience what that is like. He needs to discover new possibilities in the midst of hell. Only then can he cry out: "Ah hah! If I had not experienced this despair, I would not have been able to make this determination for my life." It is only when a person cries out this way in the depths of despair that he can be reborn as a person able to pioneer a new future.

A person should not look only in one direction. He should know to look at those who are higher than him, and those who are lower. He should know to look east, west, south and north as well. People don't live their lives in all the same way. We only live once, but whether we live successful lives depends on whether our mind's eye has good sight. To see well with the mind's eye, we need to have many different experiences. Even in the most difficult situations, we need to maintain our composure and demonstrate warmth toward others and an independence that adapts well to the circumstances we face.

A man 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 that high position. Water that does not flow becomes stale, however. A person who rises to a high position must be able to go back down and wait for his time to come. 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 be a great leader. These are the experiences that a person should have before he turns 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 could go all around the country, and never come across a person who could defeat me," then he is ready to take on a task where he has confidence and accomplish it successfully. When a person lives his life in this way, he will be successful. His success is assured. This is the conclusion that I arrived at while living as a beggar in Tokyo.

I shared meals and slept with the laborers in Tokyo, shared the grief of hunger with the beggars, learn the hard life, and earned my doctorate in the philosophy of suffering. Only then did I become 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 and earn your doctorate in the philosophy of suffering.



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