Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Satsujinken - Katsujinken


The sword that kills is the sword that gives life

剣                           Ken, also pronounced To, is the sword.
殺人剣                   Satsu Jin Ken : the sword that kills
活人剣                   Katsu Jin Ken : the sword that gives life.

殺人剣 活人剣      The sword that kills is the sword that gives life.

The formula applies to various situations opposing two parties, from a conflict between two groups of people : a war or a battle, to an inner battle within the individual.

Originally there is no rule.  A sword is designed to kill. Winning is good, losing is bad. "Vae Victis" - "Woe to the conquered" exclaimed Brenus in 387 BC, throwing his sword into the balance used to weigh the ransom of Rome, forcing the Romans to bring even more gold.

The sword that kills is the sword that kills...

Zen Buddhism was re-introduced in Japan by Eisai in 1191 and Dogen in 1227 and it played a great part in bringing a spiritual element into the traditional training of the Samurai. At about the same time something similar was happening in Europe with the romanticisation of Arthurian legend which partially succeeded in refining and ennobling people who were originally little more than gangsters to transform them into knights.(Chretien de Troyes was writing about the Grail around 1185)
The proponents of Chivalry in Europe and Bushido in Japan claimed a proper use for the sword : That it should only kill to protect the innocent
There are people today who are killing defenseless people. The use of a sword (or of any other weapon) to kill them is legitimate. Killing the bad guys to protect the good guys makes sense. And so the sword that kills the bad guys gives life to the good ones.
At times it seems that violence can only and should be stopped by violence.
  • But when 100 bad guys threaten to kill 10 innocents, should we kill the 100 to save the 10 ? 
  • And then, what if in order to save 100 innocents, one has to sacrifice 10 innocents, is this acceptable ? (such a situation is described in the movie “Swordfish”).
This again brings back the question of using violence to stop violence. Violence cannot end violence; it will always generate more violence. Later. Always. It will...
The sword that kills may momentarily give life, but eventually, killings will resume.

When only 2 individuals are involved in a conflictual situation (The swords are already drawn), if one is sufficiently trained, he might be able to neutralize an opponent without injuring or killing him. This is the philosophy of my Ju Jitsu Master Rolland Hernaez: Train enough so you can disarm your opponent without harming him (too much). Such an attitude is less likely to generate later violence. There is however no guarantee of that.

At a more personal level, literally practicing the way of the sword (Ken-Do ) to help us cut illusions and ego may actually help us develop equanimity and prevent us from using violence to solve a situation that could be taken care otherwise, if we were able to not be angry. No sword is drawn. 

The sword that kills is the sword that gives life .


Deeper inside, the practice of Zazen... 
In the Zazenron, when he is asked  how quietly meditating and doing nothing might well help anyone acquire merit, Daikoku answers : "To practice all the dharmas without looking for any profit, this is the profound Prajna. Prajna is wisdom, and it is the sharp sword to cut the roots of life-and-death..."

Prajna is the sword that gives light and life. By cutting (killing) the root of life-and-death, that sword gives us back to life.

The sword that kills is the sword that gives life .


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