I spent nearly three first years of my life in my grandfatherís house surrounded by a park and a garden of 10 acres. As I know exactly when and in which circumstances we had to leave this little paradise I am sure that some of my earliest memories date back to the summer 1943 when I was two and a half years old.
A nice summer day. Granddad had several beehives. He takes me to look at the bees. A bee comes buzzing, we run away.
A gray day. The light is gray, the space around me is full of melancholy. I am sad.
Beside our house is a well and inside that well a big pump. I am constantly warned not to go near the well, but somehow it fascinates and lures me.
In the neighbourhood there is a gravel pit where a boy, his father and grandfather died, suffocated by gravel. The two grouwnups rushed there to save the boy who was playing there, and perished too. I was shown the gravel pit and told the story.Probably it was this story that awoke my death-consciousness.
I had to sleep in the early afternoon, but I didn't want to. I couldn't fall asleep. Only one of my grandmother's sisters (there were 7 of them altogether) could make me sleep.
In the last months of 1943 the German army confiscated our house. It was in a safe place, well hidden in the park and outside the town. They moved us into a big flat in the town centre that they already considered too dangerous place for their military installations. For me it mean banishment from the paradise. We spend the next year in shelters and in fleeing from the approaching front. The house where we were moved was destroyed by bombardments, all our books, art works and furniture perished. From the paradise I was sent to a place quite similar to hell.Me and my mother left the town and spent some months in the countryside where we had relatives. Maybe it saved our life.
In the town, when the alarm began to sound, my mother and aunt put me, the sleeping child into a big laundry basket and carried to the cellar - a relatively safe place. We spent some days and nights in real shelters too. It was quite exciting: there were many children present, and the grownups were not so terribly busy all the time. They sat and told interesting stories.
Before leaving the town, we leftsome of our belongings in the cellar that had served as a makeshift bombshelter. When we returned, the house had burnt. the cellar and our things were safe, but they had suffered from terrible heat: some china cups had molten a bit. I was not in the cellar that time ...
I lost my father as a baby of five months. He had been the lecturer of Polish language and literature in Tartu University, sent here by the Polish authorities. He was arrested by the Soviet security police (NKVD) and vanished in the GULAG. I have seen some documents about his arrest and interrogation,but nothing about his death. Officially he should have been set free as aPolish citizen and could leave the USSR, but in practice he most probably was kept in the labour camp as a nameless slave until he died of hunger and exhaustion. Some people have met him there and I have been informed about the last period of his life.Unfortunately, everybody has told a different story about his death.
If my father had survived, we would have probably moved to Poland or to a Western country, and Iwouldn't have become an Estonian.
After the front had passed over us, we moved back to Tartu and found a place where to live: two rooms in a big flat. There were several other families with whom we had to share the kitchen and the bathroom. We called the flat "our kolkhoz". Therewere many different people there, and I could observe their behaviour and listen to their talk and songs. Some drank heavily - I amallergic to drunkards since then.
I was a sickly, sensitive and meditative child. I refused to eat meat even as a little child, as if preparing myself to become a Buddhist. I fell in rage when an animal was killed or maimed.
I was often ill. Lying in fever Ihad strange sensations and feelings. The sensation of having my body vanished, space vanished, a strange rhythm beating in my head. A preparation to meditation, if you will.
Granddad taught me to read at theage of four. I had no brothers or sisters, and was often alone. I read alot, preferring stories of war and adventure and popular science. The book I probably read most was granddad's 8-volume Estonian Encyclopedia.
At the age of four I was once sitting on the sofa in our flat. The sky was clouded, there was the samekind of melancholy in the air. I sat there, wondering how it is, how itis possible that I am me and I am J.K. I couldn't formulate my existential doubt as a question, even less could I find an answer to it. This unformulated question has haunted me since then, being one impulse that led me to Buddhism.
I had some other philosophical problems I was later able to discover as having been treated in the Buddhist philosophy. If I wear blue glasses and see everything as blue, is this blue really blue or just no colour at al? I had the feeling that blue can be blue only if there is something non-blue. Blue exists only in contrast to other colours. Looking at the blade of the knife I wondered how it can ever end: if we move toward the edge, it becomes sharper and sharper. But sharp can always become sharper, so there is no limit to sharpness, accordingly there should be no limit to the edge of the knife. How can the knife then have a well limited edge?
The aunt comes to visit us. Iwait for her, and tell to my mother, that I want to be a nice boy, then auntie will give me candies. Mom says that if you are nice just to get candies, you aren't really nice. I feel sad, thinking, how can I then be nice at all - I know that I get candies for being nice. I cannot forget it. Compensated goodness is possibly no goodness, but how to detach yourself from the idea of compensation?
There were some things that were not nice at all. They were dirty, horrible, and tabooed. Sex was dirty and tabooed, death and torture were tabooed too. There was a strange lure in these things. When nobody saw me I read what I could find about sex and copulation in the encyclopedia. I took Mom's French encyclopedia or a volume of Francois Villon with the poem about the hanged men and studied them under the table in secret. Me and my class comrade discussed the anatomy of female sexual organs - we would like to know more about them - and illustrated our discussion with pictures drawn with a pebble on a garden wall. Mom knew about it and punished me severely.
I could spend all my summers inthe countryside at our relatives. Although it was in very difficult times: the kolkhozes became more and more poor, and people survived only thanks to their private cows and tiny plots of land, I felt myself better there than in town. In the countryside I found glimpses and patches of my lost paradise. I could find trees, grass, birds, dogs and cats and silence. There were no neighbours in the little farmhouse, and plenty of books left by the late husband of my Grandma's sister, a teacher and a cantor of the local Church. I read everything from literary journals to Church booklets, womens' journals and handbooks on poultry growing. It was my summer school. It was the main source of my erudition.
I wasnít interested in poetry until I was thirteen. Then I happened to read a poem by the Russian poetLermontov on Napoleon's shadow visiting his homeland . It was revelation. I wept, and started my long journey in the promised land of poetry. My first teachers were the Russian and English Romantic poets: Lermontov, Pushkin, Shelley. Then the Modernists as Eliot, Baudelaire and Rimbaud. Then folk poetry. The latest and very powerful impulses come from Far Eastern, especially Chinese classical poetry. I am working on an anthology of the earliest Chinese verse from Shijing to Tao Yuanming. When I was younger, I wrote a number of haikus and even tankas, forms that seem to suit well to the character ofthe Estonian language.
I prefer to spend my time in our summer home - an old farmhouse where there are few people around and a lot of trees and animals - even beavers and bears live nearby. I have a big family according to our standards - five children from 33 to 16. My wifeTiia is a writer too, she has studied textile art and is actually the director of the Tartu Toy Museum.
My hobbies are mostly connected with Nature. I plant trees and have already a kind of my own park that goes smoothly over to forest. Among my secret passions one of the strangest and strongest is the passion for faraway islands, e.g. the sub-Antarctic islands in the Southern Seas as Falkland, Kerguelen or St. Paul.
I have studied linguistics and philosophy. My favourite thinkers are Wittgenstein and Zhuangzi, the Chinese Taoist classic. I think I have discovered a possible link connecting both. The German writer and philosopher Fritz Mauthner knew Zhuangzi in German translation, and liked him very much. Wittgenstein was influenced by Mauthner.
I feel unhappy of the present situation of the Western mind. There is a strong tendency to build a"Fortress Europe" (to a lesser degree a fortress America) both in the political and spiritual sense. It means dividing the world culture clearly into what is ours and what is alien. My favourite poets and philosophers happen to be aliens in the present-day Europe. Thus I am more and more an alien here too. I do probably not belong to Asia either, but tothe same no man's land as the Far Eastern poets and thinkers I love.
I feel the curse of the Western mind is its tendency to think in words and see the world as a world of defined meanings. Its belief in definitions that means borderlines - defining is drawing borders. But in the real world there are not many hings, emotions and meanings clearly divided by borderlines.Defining the living world is violence, is a kind of a rape, butcher's not philosopher's or poet's work. There are differences, but difference is not necessarily borderline. There is difference between warm and cold, light and darkness, youth and old age, small and big, flower and grass, man and animal. But these differences are mostly gradual, there are no borderlines. There are many differences in my life, but not so many borderlines.
I do not define myself. Defining a human being - this is what the Inquisition did. Definition IS inquisition. I have the feeling - perhaps I am not right - that in the Far East you hadn't to define yourself. You had to fulfill your duties, but in your heart you were free, what you had in your heart was free as light, as darkness, as wind that comes and goes. This is my freedom. The freedom of somebody who loves to observe and to photograph floating clouds and little fish swimming in our pond.
Two years ago, in spring I met two cranes close to my country home. They had spring in their hearts, making movements of dance. I greeted them with a Buddhist bow. They didn't fly away. One of them answered to my greeting with a similar bow.I made some dance movements, swaying my hands as wings. They answered. I was really happy. I had the feeling that Nature had accepted me as one of its lost sons. When Kazuko Shiraishi called me once from Japan, telling me she was writing an essay on my poetry, I had a similar feeling. Is it Asia that has accepted me, answered to my bow?