Sunday, March 1, 2009


Below is an extract of "The Zen Way to Martial Arts" by Zen Master Taisen Deshimaru

Born in Saga in 1914, Taisen Deshimaru became a disciple of Master Kodo Sawaki in the 1930s. Kodo Sawaki was one of the most influential Zen masters in 20th-century Japan. He particularly emphasized the importance of zazen practice and was among those masters who opened up the practice to laypeople by organizing sesshin in numerous temples.

Unlike most Zen masters, Taisen Deshimaru continued to lead a secular life while following his master’s teaching. He received the monk ordination in 1965, shortly before his master’s death. In 1967, he came to Europe and settled in Paris to transmit the teaching of Zen.

Shortly thereafter, in the 1970s, his mission began to increase in scale. He received dharma transmission from Master Yamada Reirin, head of Eiheiji Temple, and became kaikyosokan (head of Japanese Soto Zen for a particular country or continent) in Europe. He trained many disciples, and was the catalyst for the creation of a multitude of practice centers. He founded the AZI in 1970 and La Gendronnière in 1979. He died in 1982, after having solidly established Zen practice in Europe.

Bushido, the way of the samurai, grew out of the fusion of Buddhism and Shintoism. This way can be summarized in seven essential principles:

  1. Gi: the right decision, taken with equanimity, the right attitude, the truth. When we must die, we must die. Rectitude.
  2. Yu: bravery tinged with heroism.
  3. Jin: universal love, benevolence toward mankind; compassion.
  4. Rei: right action--a most essential quality, courtesy.
  5. Makoto: utter sincerity; truthfulness.
  6. Meiyo: honor and glory.
  7. Chugo: devotion, loyalty.

These are the seven principles underlying the spirit of Bushido,

Bu - martial arts;

Shi - warrior;

Do - the way.

The way of the samurai is imperative and absolute. Practice, in the body, through the unconscious, is fundamental to it, thus the enormous importance attached to the learning of right action or behavior.

Bushido has influenced Buddhism, and Buddhism has influenced Bushido; the elements of Buddhism found in Bushido are five:

  • Pacification of the emotions;
  • Tranquil compliance with the inevitable;
  • Self-control in the face of any event;
  • A more intimate exploration of death than of life;
  • Pure poverty.

Before the Second World War Zen Master Kodo Sawaki used to lecture the greatest masters in the martial arts, the highest authorities of Budo. In English "martial" arts is confused with "arts of war," but in Japan there is only: the way. In the West the "martial arts" are a fashion, they have become an urban sport, a technique, and have none of the spirit of the way.

In his lectures Kodo Sawaki would say that Zen and the martial arts had the same flavor and were the same thing. And in both Zen and the martial arts, training counts for a great deal.

How long do you need to train? Many people have asked me, "How many years do I have to practice zazen?" And I answer, "Until you die." They're not very happy with that answer. In the West people want to learn fast; some people think once is enough: "I came once and I understood," they say.

But the dojo is not like a university.

In Budo, too, you have to practice until you die.

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