Thursday, October 4, 2012

Studying the Sutras...


In one of his exchange with the assembly, Master Bankei was asked by his disciple Itsuzan :

"Is it helpful for students to look through the Buddhist Sutras and Zen records ?"

Bankei's answer was :

"There is a time for reading the Zen records. If you read them or the sutras while you are still seeking the meaning contained in them, you'll only blind yourself. When you read them after having transcended that meaning, they become proof of your attainment"

Some people are very knowledgeable about the Bible, the Diamond or the Heart Sutra. They can quote them, it is always impressive. In fact, as I am not as knowledgeable as they are, I would not know if they lied, were simply mistaken, or  "mis-spoke" as I heard a politician say not very long ago...




One day some guy says something that sounds interesting to those who hear it. They repeat it, change it, transcribe it, translate it... There are errors in translations and values, ethics or uses evolve. And little by little things can become pretty poorly understood. This happens all the time. 

I read last week a short essay entitled "The Myth in Zen in the Art of Archery" by Yamada Shoji. 

"Zen in the Art of Archery" was originally written in German by Eugen Herrigel, a German professor who taught philosophy and studied Kyūdō (the art of the Japanese bow) in Japan between 1924 to 1929.

In 1948, back in Germany, Herrigel published his book about his experiences.  Translated into English in 1953 and Japanese in 1955, it became the international reference about the philosophy of Kyudo. In it, Herrigel explains - very convincingly - how Zen is central to the practice of Kyudo. 

The only problem is : Master Awa Kenzo (The Kyudo instuctor) had never practiced Zen, and in his essay, Yamada Shoji explains how in 2 specific and crucial occasions, Herrigel wrongly interpreted the sayings of his instructors due probably to the fact that he was not totally fluent in Japanese. 

So on the base of false assumptions beautifully detailed by Herrigel in his book, generations of Martial Artists have firmly believed that Zen is central to the practice of Martial Arts.

Not that Zen cannot help the martial artist improve; actually, it can. But Zen is not necessary and numerous great Budo masters were or are not Zenists. But if this kind of things can happen between 1924 and 1948, you can imagine what may have been lost, or embellished between the 6th century when Boddhidharma went to China, and our 21st century...

This maybe why Bankei had strictly forbidden anyone to transcribe his teachings. To avoid this kind of mistakes. Of course they did transcribe them...

Scriptures are good, they are however simply the recording of something that happened in the past, in a situation that was not exactly the same as your situation today. It is your responsibility to figure out things for yourself. It can't be helped...




Sit...


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