Thursday, October 31, 2013

Zen at War

A few years ago, 2 distressing books entitled "Zen at War" and "Zen War Stories" were published by Brian Victoria about the attitude of the Zen Establishment right before and during World War II in Japan. During this difficult period, a number of Zen Masters gave their support to the Japanese Imperial Army. This was very unfortunate, but they were very likely unaware of the atrocities committed in Korea, China and other Asian countries by the Japanese forces. (Are we really aware of what is going on in Pakistan or Afghanistan ?)

Apparently and according to various authors, Victoria tried to strengthen his case by distorting the words of a number of prominent Zen teachers. Among those are Kodo Sawaki, teacher of Taisen Desshimaru and Gudo Nishijima - and D.T. Suzuki who first translated in English the Lankavatara Sutra - among others - Excusez-moi du peu ! Quotations from these masters were mistranslated and taken out of contest to make them seem like war-mongers when this was quite the opposite.

I suggest you read this article and decide for yourself. 

I don’t know Japanese so I can’t judge of the validity of the arguments on the translations. However, I have been practising Japanese Martial Arts for a few years and I would like to add some wood to the fire of discussion. So here we go :

Zen does not preach the gospel of mercy, in fact Zen does not preach anything at all. Zen is practice.

The connection between Zen and Martial Arts dates from the beginnings of Zen in Japan – i.e. the 13th century when the Mongols of Kubilai Khan twice tried to invade (in 1274 and 1281). These were difficult times for Japanese society.
If you want to understand more about the connection between Zen and Martial Arts, I suggest you read Trevor Legett’s "Zen and the Ways” and “The Warriors Koans”, Taisen Desshimaru (another disciple of Kodo Sawaki Roshi) – “Zen and Martial Arts”, Yamaoka Tesshu’s “The sword of no-sword”, or Omory Sogen’s “Introduction to Zen training”. These are all books by men of great accomplishment in Zen and/or Traditional Japanese Martial or other Arts. 

The same sword and swordsman kills and gives life – no distinction. This is not a deep philosophical thing. If you see someone ready to hurt some innocent person, you slice them, your sword killed one person, and gave life to the other person. It is that simple. If you believe otherwise, you are mistaken. You might not be able to do it, but do not blame Buddhism or Zen for that. It is just that you were not able to do it.

There is no shame if you did nothing because you did not know how to handle a sword. No need to be killed yourself. However, if you are fluent in Martial Arts and are not able to use them when necessary, or if you use them too easily when you should not, you have a problem, and society has a problem. 

This is where Zen can help.

Yagyu Munenori was chief martial art instructor to the first and second Tokugawa shogun. (Early 17th century). Only once in his life did he draw his sword when a small group of rebels tried to assassinate the Shogun. Munenori, who was himself a disciple of Takuan Soho - sliced them down.
In his book “Heiho Kandesho” translated by Scott Wilson as “the Life-giving sword” Munenori clearly explains the identity of the life giving and the killing sword.

Things are not complicated. To become fluent at anything, you need to practice. It is true of Zen, it is true of Martial Arts. You need to practice Zazen, you need to practice Kendo or Calligraphy. If you don’t practice, you are wasting your time. 

And here I am, writing...

Monday, October 28, 2013

There is a plan...

I often read articles, blogs or books about Zen or Buddhism written by very knowledgeable people. They hold PhD.s in Religious studies; some can speak Chinese and Japanese, decipher the Tun Huang Manuscripts or read ancient Tibetan or Dogen's Japanese. They are scholars of all horizons and / or certified Dharma transmitted Zen Masters...

What they write is usually deep - and complicated. So quite a few other brilliant and sometimes vindictive persons enjoy arguing with them, and all we have is lots of bickering and arguing between experts or enlightened people. 

But is this really the point ? And what is really the point ? Is it to be right, or is it to be happy ?

Originally, there is this nagging frustration or insatisfaction - the human condition. And Buddhism is about overcoming it. There are different ways to achieve this, but originally, this is what it is all about.

There is no speaking about form, emptiness, the 3 poisons or the 4 Noble truth to someone whose child just died. 

There is a plan. 

There is a design for each and everyone of us. 

You look at nature : 

Bird flies somewhere,
Picks up a seed,
Shits the seed out,
Plant grows.

Bird's got a job,
Shit's got a job,
Seed's got a job,
And you've got a job too.

(Quote from Cold Mountain - the Movie, not the Zen poems...)

Thursday, October 24, 2013


During the October 2013 KNBK seminar in Pensacola, Carl Long Sensei introduced us to the the Shin-Gyo-So practice forms of the Ono-Ha Itto Ryu Kiriotoshi

The words 'shin, gyo, so' come from the three ways of writing in Shodo (Calligraphy), 'kaisho (equivalent to shin), gyosho and sosho'. Shin is a formal non cursive form, Gyo a semi-cursive one, and So is the cursive form.

" " - MU - Nothing - brushed in the 3 styles

In the Itto Ryu practice, the distance between opponents (Mai) and the target of the cut are different for each one of the 3 different ways: Shin (), Gyo () , So ().

GYO ( )
SO ( )
Solar plexus,
Suigetsu (水月 )
Throat, Nodo
( )
Head, Men
( )

Practice intensely and repeatedly...