Monday, January 10, 2011

Hojo Tokimune - 1

Hojo Tokimune (北条 時宗, 1251 - 1284) was 23 when the Mongols tried to invade Japan in 1274 for the first time. They tried again in 1281. In both occasions, the invaders were repelled. This was the first time they were vanquished. So these were dramatic times for Japan. Tokimune had to take hard decisions and numerous people died under his command - but Japan stayed free, and this was the beginning of the end for the Mongol empire who had never before been vanquished.  

Tokimune apparently was afraid of his own fearfulness and to fight it practiced Zen under Master Bukko Kokushi (仏光国師) - also known as Mugaku Sogen and Wuxue Zuyuan (Chinese). Tokimune founded the Enkakuji Temple in Kamakura in 1282 to honor those who had died during the Invasions.

When Tokimune died, Bukko said he had been a bodhisattva, looked at people's welfare, betrayed no signs of joy or anger and studied Zen so that he reached enlightenment.

Tokimune's widow Kakusan-ni founded Tokei-Ji in 1285 after her husband’s death. She dedicated it to her him and made it a refuge for abused women. She is also known as the Nun Shido who when the Abbott of Engakuji challenged her about her ability to comment on a Classic of Zen, drew her 10 inch blade Tanto and answered him : "I am a woman of the warrior line and I should only declare our teaching when really face to face with a drawn sword. What book should I need?'

       These events and guys were almost contemporary with Master Dogen (1200 - 1253) - founder of Soto Zen in Japan. They were living very difficult times and facing very significant challenges. These guys had responsibilities and guts. Still, they were practicing Zen, for they were finding in It the strength and determination they needed to be up to these lethal challenges. 


       Some have the impression that Zen - and/or any spiritual endeavour - are a way to escape reality. Actually a number of us come to it to find "peace of mind". There is nothing wrong about that. 

       In a similar way, lots of us came to Martial Arts to learn self defense. Again, nothing wrong about this. But after a few years (20, 30) you really can't keep practicing with the only goal of becoming a better meaner fighter. If at 50 you feel the need to go Saturday night to a Country bar to pick a fight in order to test your abilities, you are missing something - notwithstanding the fact that you will eventually get your ass kicked - if not this time, then the next... Martial Arts really are about fighting the real enemy inside us.

       Same for Zen. We get to it for various reasons. Usually the need to find a place where we're at peace. Sitting will give us that. But if we keep practicing with the only intent to escape the tumults of the world, we are missing the point. Zen is not about escaping. Zen is about being here, in the middle of the mess, crawling under a floor to find a water leak and not finding it, helping a loved one going through disease, cooking for your kids, or deciding how to organize your troops in order to minimize the number of dead soldiers when repelling the invader. 

Joseph Campbell coined a beautiful description of what Zen is about : "Joyful participation in the Sorrows of the World"

Now one last point...

       Even if you practice Martial Arts to become a better person, you should train to always be ready to answer a challenge, to be ready to fight and actually not lose. If you do not have this spirit, you are not practicing Martial Arts. 

       In the same way, in Zen "joyful participation in the sorrows of the World" is achieved through sitting. You may decide your time is better spent trying to help others than "selfishly" sit in Lotus; and immerse yourself in noble and useful endeavors to make a difference in your environment. But if you don't sit, this is not Zen.

Nobody said it would be easy.

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