Tuesday, February 26, 2013

            Most of this talk is based on ideas that were stimulated by a book by Winston I. King, author of several works on Japanese culture.  Zen and the Way of the Sword was published in 1993.

Samurai, in a few words, the historic swordsmen of Japan, were highly skilled in killing, and whose lives were an ongoing preparation for death.

            One of Japan’s greatest swordsmen, Miyamoto Musashi, said, “The way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death.”

            That’s an interesting concept, isn’t it?

            What makes it even more fascinating is the fact that most samurai warriors were Zen Buddhists.

            Is this a philosophical discrepancy?

Zen is known for its awareness of the suffering of other beings. It is known for its peacefulness, its calmness of mind, its philosophy of living in the moment.

However, Zen is also aware of the inevitability of death.

            King mentions two important elements were at play in the apparent contradictory situation between Zen mind and samurai mind. One was Buddhism, in its wide-ranging forms. The other was the behavior of Japan’s ancient warrior class that blossomed in the twelfth century.

            That warrior class was collectively known as samurai. They were the military nobility that lived “the way of the warrior,” known as bushido. Their moral code stressed frugality, loyalty, martial arts, and honor. Bushido also emphasized wisdom and serenity.

            Here are two more sayings by master swordsman Miyamoto Musashi that sound very Zen:

            “Perceive that which cannot be seen with the eye.”
            “Do nothing which is of no use.”

            The writer D.T. Suzuki addressed the question shortly after World War II when he wrote: “Whatever form Buddhism takes in the various countries where it flourishes, it is a religion of compassion and . . . has never been found engaged in warlike activities.”

            King mentions the Zen attitude of “losing the tie.”

Losing the tie is a term that refers to unnecessary attachments to life, or to desires, or to death and fears. Losing the tie is a form of spiritual freedom. It comes about not by intellectual reasoning or logic but by harmonious living, by accepting whatever fits with oneself and ignoring whatever doesn’t fit.

            Chuangtzu, the Chinese philosopher who lived around the 4th century, said that such a spiritual state goes beyond the distinctions of right and wrong, good and bad. This makes an individual one with the Tao.

            Zen is usually identified with koans, and in another context King speaks of koan meditation as letting go of reason or intellect to deal with matters. If a koan such as the meaning of Mu is not a puzzle to be solved with a wise answer, such as the sum of one and one is two, a koan’s response has to be intuitive or instinctive.

            We know that Zen is meditation; meditation is Zen. But we do not think of meditation as a path to some sort of breakthrough. Meditation isn’t a shortcut to WHAM! BANG! Instantaneous awakening or enlightenment. Meditation is Zen. That is, living life as a reality.

            “To live so that every action, every moment, is lived with the full depth of one’s being,” to quote King.

            That brings to mind the old but familiar mountain idea.

1.      Mountains are mountains.
2.      Mountains are not mountains.
3.      Mountains are really mountains.

            Okay, let me hear from you. What is the meaning of this apparent gibberish?

            The Zen take goes as follows:  

1.      To normal human awareness a mountain is a huge bunch of rock.
2.      With a little insight the word concept of a mountain is merely what we have been told. The word “mountain” is an artificial construct.
3.       Finally, in one’s experience the word mountain is not a label but a reality.

A Chinese philosopher named Qingyuan wrote the following words:

”Before I had studied Chan for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains and rivers as rivers. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and rivers are not rivers. But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest. For it's just that I see mountains once again as mountains and rivers once again as rivers.”

This notion was put into a popular 1967 song by a British singer named Donovan. Suzuki went several steps further with his observation, “Not only do I see a mountain, but the mountain sees me.”

If you have lost the connection with Zen and the samurai mind, don’t worry. We will continue the subject when we next meet.

·        * * * *

Before we go home I have a story to read.

There once was a monastery that was very strict. Following a vow of silence, no one was allowed to speak at all. There was one exception to this rule. Every ten years the monks were permitted to speak just two words.
After spending his first ten years at the monastery, one monk went to the master. The master said, "It has been ten years. What are the two words you would like to speak?"
"Bed hard," said the monk.
"I see," the master replied.
Ten years later, the monk returned to the master's office. "It has been ten more years," said the master. "What are the two words you would like to speak?"
"Food stinks," said the monk.
"I see," the master replied.
Yet another ten years passed and the monk once again met with the master who asked, "What are your two words now, after these ten years?"
"I quit!" said the monk.
"I can see why," the master said. "All you ever do is complain."


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