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Thread: Questioning the link between Zen and Budo

  1. #31
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    My understanding is that some samurai studied Zen because it was said to help clear the mind of thought so one could focus during combat, and so they could work past fear and other obstructing emotions.

    IMO, the act of engaging in aggressive sword practice is itself akin to a Zen exercize that has the benefit of being directly related to... sword.

    Why spend time with tea when what you need is to ingrain good combat mindset. That can happen only by realistic training in combat. "Zen" happens.
    Cady Goldfield

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    Anyone interested in this topic should also read the following two essays (in addition to the long list of reading materials already mentioned):

    (1) Yamada, Shoji. 2001. "The Myth of Zen in the Art of Archery" Translated by Earl Hartman. *Japanese Journal of Religious Studies* 28, nos. 1-2: 1-30. Available on-line via the journal's homepage (http://www.ic.nanzan-u.ac.jp/SHUBUNK.../jjrs/jjrs.htm). Click the link titled "Cumulative contents (on-line from 1974)." It is item no. 586. (Or, try the direct link: http://www.nanzan-u.ac.jp/SHUBUNKEN/...rs/pdf/586.pdf).

    (2) Bodiford, William M. 2001. "Religion and Spiritual Development: Japan." In *Martial Arts of the World: An Encyclopedia*, edited by Thomas A. Green (Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO), vol. 2: 472-505.

    Both of these essays provide a larger context for evaluating the links between budo and Japanese religions as well as the ways that those links have been interpreted by previous authors. The extensive bibliography in item no. 2 lists many other useful sources for pursuing this topic further.

    I hope this information is useful.
    William Bodiford
    Professor
    Dept. of Asian Languages & Cultures
    UCLA

  3. #33
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    Quote Originally Posted by shieldcaster
    Oh, yes, Ben, I forgot, the ole semantics and literality thing. You are right, in a textbook sense, regarding Kegon, Buddha and Mahayana Buddhism.

    I guess what I should have said was: In my rather exhaustive search for information regarding the rather elusive Kegon-shu, both in person and in literature, the handful or so 'Buddhist scholars' that I have spoken with AND the...I don't know, three or so books that have ever been published on the subject, AND I can't forget the actual Buddhist laymen and priests (from a plethora of shu and ha) I have been in contact with have (if not instantly and selflessly offering the age old palms up) all chimed in with the whole 'Kegon is what the Buddha taught immediately following his enlightenment' gag. Those kookie guys--I shoulda known they'd be pulling the gaijin's leg .
    The view that the Kegon/Avatamsaka Sutra was taught immediately after the Buddha's enlightenment is derived from T'ien T'ai/Tendai exegesis. Chih I categorized all of the Sutras in the Buddhist Canon (which are a huge number) into five periods; the first period being the Avatamasaka/Kegon Sutra. The last period being the Lotus and Mahaparinirvana Sutras.

    It is good to keep in mind, though, that this system of classification is not shared throughout the Buddhist world. Theravada Buddhists hold that the first sermon of the Buddha is "The Turning of the Wheel of the Dhamma Sutta" found in the Pali Canon (Theravadan's do not accept the Kegon as Buddhavacana). Vajrayanaists have their own scheme. And even in China this scheme of Chih I's was not universally accepted; though it is very influential and widespread.

    The issue of when Mahayana Buddhism appared is very complex (it would be nice if it was simple, but it isn't). Some Mahayana works are good candidates for being very early teachings and, according to scholars, a case can be made for them being contemporary with non-Mahayana traditions. These include The Diamond Sutra, early sections of the Lotus Sutra, the Rice Seedling Sutra, and some others. Basically, the Mahayana, in its early form, was the positing of a Bodhisattva Path of cultivation, and one does find this in some very early sources. Other Mahayana works appeared much later. But even here it is difficult to say for sure just when.

    Regarding Zen and the Samurai class, I think some insight on this can be gained by getting a larger context. Zen in China, Ch'an, for example, never had a strong association with the warrior class, nor did/does Zen in Vietnam. In Korea there are some famous episodes of Zen Master, e.g. So Soen Tae Sah, engaging in warfare to defend the nation, then immediatley returning to their meditations.

    What I'm getting at is that the association between Zen and the Samurai has as much to do with Japan and Japanese culture as it does with Zen. That is to say the militarization of Buddhism in Japanese history was already firmly established by the time Zen appeared on the scene. The famous Tendai armed battalions, the monk armies, are a rather extreme manifestaiton of this, but also clearly indicate that Japanese culture had merged the two approaches long before Zen appeared on the scene as a separate tradition.

    Best wishes,
    Dharmajim

  4. #34
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    My Zen teacher is an enthusiatic supporter of my kendo practice as part of my Zen practice. He doesn't see them as counter-productive at all. But when I mistakenly asked him for training guidance in preparation before a major competition, he just said: "Eat well and sleep well. Train hard in your techniques." He didn't give me a special mudra or koan or anything. He didn't even give me any "Zen" advice, although his advice was in fact, very "Zen".

    Later he told me that he once was asked to train a pistol-shooting team in Japan (meditative techniques to lower heart-rate). He said after a year of Zen they didn't do any better, actually did a bit worse, but they didn't mind so much because winning and losing were no longer as important to them!

    Trevor Legget published a book with the populist title Samurai Zen which presents the first translations of some interesting koan collections relating to bushi. Apparently the Regent Tokimune who saw off the (second?) Mongol invasion had an ongoing Zen dialogue with Bukko (Mugaku) Kokushi.

    b

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    Found this today, and it's been an interesting read.

    It seems to me that the link really takes hold after the Minamoto create their bakufu out in the provinces, getting out from under the thumb of the politics of the nobles in Heian-kyo. The new upper class of bushi seemed to take to Chinese philosophy, including Zen and Confucianism. One of the things about Zen that a warrior class could appreciate, imho, is that it approaches Buddhism differently from the Shingon and Tendai sects that had been popular in the capital, which seem to have focused much more on learning and esoteric ritual. Zen appears to have been something that you could get the warriors to accept, and it put them in the right frame of mind: even death is unimportant because if you die you will be reincarnated. More important is how you act while you are here. Tie this in, then, with the Confucian teachings that were often imported alongside Zen, including concepts of filial piety, so that you have people that believe that if they do what is right they will be reincarnated on a higher level of existence in the next life and that 'what is right' is to follow [serve->saburau] your lord, even if it means death.

    As for things like the Tea Ceremony--remember that it wasn't quite so 'wabi' and 'sabi' focussed before Rikkyu. Early tea ceremonies, from what I've been able to read, were more elaborate ways of showing wealth and power. They were basically the old sake parties of the nobility, with tea substituted in. Rikkyu seems to have really combined this with ideas of austerity (something that was preached during the Kamakura Bakufu but had been rather lost on the Ashikaga during the Muromachi era). It became 'cool' to be humble, and bland, and serious. In many ways, Rikkyu's tea became another status symbol, with people going to great expense to build poor, rustic, falling down tea houses (?!?).

    In such an atmosphere, with Zen and Confucianism popular in the upper levels of Japanese society, it is no wonder that there were influences on budo. Heck--'do' comes from the Chinese 'tau', often referring to a spiritual or philosophical path (Kongfuzi often talks of the Tao). 'Do-jo' is a place the 'do' was practiced. Some of the more popular early writings, including Yagyu Munenori's 'Heiho Kadensho' and the writings of Takuan Soho (a Rinzai Zen Buddhist priest).

    That said, you had people with other ideas. Omyodo--Japanese version of Chinese astrology and geomancy, along with Buddhism and Shinto--shows up in various forms. The respect for a the spirit of a place, a thing, or even a person seems tied with Shinto. Many dojo have a Shinto shrine.

    So I don't think it can be said that Zen has nothing to do with the formation of Japanese budo, but neither is it the totality of it. Japanese thought has brought Buddhism in to Japan along with many other forms of thought, and merged it together with Japanese ideas and philosophies to produce the Japanese mindset that is part and parcel to so many arts.

    Okay. I've talked too much. Time to go sit back down in the corner.

    Disclaimer: This is all just extemporaneous exposition of my thoughts on the matter based on readings over the last several years. I reserve the right to disagree with and contradict any of my positions herein ;-)
    Joshua Badgley
    Member of the Capital Area Budokai
    http://cabudokai.org

    これやこの行くも帰るもわかれつつ
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  6. #36
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    Quote Originally Posted by ichibyoshi

    Later he told me that he once was asked to train a pistol-shooting team in Japan (meditative techniques to lower heart-rate). He said after a year of Zen they didn't do any better, actually did a bit worse, but they didn't mind so much because winning and losing were no longer as important to them!

    b
    Interesting points. But I wonder if the Japanese team would have cared more if their lives were at stake. My point being that whether you were a bushi from any period in Japanese history, or are a modern soldier or police officer, your performance is the ultimate measure of the effectiveness of your training. I can only assume that it was the same for the bushi of the past. I am beginning to think that the value of zen may not have been so much pre-fight, as post fight. Part of a PTSD reduction plan. This would allow the bushi to have better assimalated their experiences, ultimately enhancing their future perfomance.

    In support of this, is does seem that many of the bushi came to Zen later in life.
    Best regards,
    Bruce Mitchell

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    [

    In support of this, is does seem that many of the bushi came to Zen later in life.[/QUOTE]



    I could be totally off the mark here but my understanding has always been that the bushido aspect of training really was focused on after the major era of conflict was over. I cant remember the quotes or text's I got this from but after training the samauri into basiclly human killing machines, and the fuedal era ended, they needed something to slow these warriors down.

    The whole Idea of learning calligraphy, the arts, and such did not develop at the same time as the warrior class but came later. Does this ring a bell for anyone else?

    Mike O'Leary.
    Old Dragon

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    But Japanese people as a nation generally reach towards Buddhism as they near death. Taking part in weekly sermons a lot of the talk is about coming to terms with death regardless of age. They constantly talk about and quote about what terminally ill young people have said in a quest to be at peace when death comes and relate this to buddhist precepts.
    Hyakutake Colin

    All the best techniques are taught by survivors.


    http://www.hyoho.com

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    [QUOTE=Bruce Mitchell]Interesting points. But I wonder if the Japanese team would have cared more if their lives were at stake...QUOTE]

    I think the point of Zen training is that even in a life-and-death situation, one is to be able to take all things "lightly" as it were. Zen trains one to "go beyond" all dualism: good-evil, life-death, form-emptiness. For someone who has insight into the place beyond these pairs of opposites, I would suggest that there is both never a time when their lives were not at stake, and also there was never a time when they weren't just playing a game. Hence whether you lose the match or lose your life, it's no big deal.

    b

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    [QUOTE=ichibyoshi]
    Quote Originally Posted by Bruce Mitchell
    Interesting points. But I wonder if the Japanese team would have cared more if their lives were at stake...QUOTE]

    I think the point of Zen training is that even in a life-and-death situation, one is to be able to take all things "lightly" as it were.
    This was the point I was trying to make. More towards the acceptance of death. To be able to put it to one side and not cloud the mind.

    Musashi talks of this a lot. Of unmei (Fate, destiny, bow to the inevitable) and deal with task at hand.

    Waga koto ni oite, kokai wo sezu: Never have regrets about oneself: This means you are the one that has to come to terms with yourself. Your confession in life is to yourself. There should be no regret in human lives.
    Hyakutake Colin

    All the best techniques are taught by survivors.


    http://www.hyoho.com

  11. #41
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    [QUOTE=ichibyoshi]
    Quote Originally Posted by Bruce Mitchell
    Interesting points. But I wonder if the Japanese team would have cared more if their lives were at stake...QUOTE]

    I think the point of Zen training is that even in a life-and-death situation, one is to be able to take all things "lightly" as it were .... Hence whether you lose the match or lose your life, it's no big deal.

    b
    I understand the point that you are making here. I also understand the concept of shinken shobu in matches, but, matches do not approximate the stress of battle. They do not elicit a stress response from the body, i.e. vasoconstriction. Instead they elicit vasodialation, for instance your face becomes red (as opposed to becoming blanched and pale). You may experience a slight adrenaliane rush, but are unlikely to experience the release or cortisol into your system. This is all very signifigant post incident. Just as you probably would not have nightmares from watching a match, an actual duel would be far more traumatic (people often have a stress responses even from seeing a violent incident).

    I want to be clear that I am not arguing against the usefulness of zen in addressing PTSD, or in in preventing or defusing a stress response and allowing you to engage from a more centered place. What I do take issue with is the cavalier attitude that much of zenist seem to take about matters of life and death.

    It damn well does matter if you live or die in an engagement. Think about it this way, even if you were involved in a personal duel, your actions would have reprecussions beyond yourself, regardless of the outcome. Just look at the tale of the 47 Ronin. While Asano Takumi no kami Naganori may have been able to embody a zen attitude about his own death, his actions effected the lives of his retainers, and ultimately their families as well. Did they take a zenist approach and accept his death?

    While understanding that you may die and accepting it is an important part of the psychological preperation for combat, there is a big difference between accepting that reality and taking the situation "lightly".
    Best regards,
    Bruce Mitchell

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    In take your points Bill and they are well made. I see you understand where I was coming from also.

    I think part of the mental preparation for the professional medieval Japanese soldier of the samurai caste was not just thinking that they "may" die in battle, but that they "probably would" die in battle. If they survived, it was a bonus. Hence, no attachments.

    Also, training in kendo or kenjutsu during periods of war, with the practitioner constantly feeling it would be likely that these techniques will be necessary is a different thing to today. It has be mentioned elsewhere that menkyo in some koryu would generally be awarded after a shorter period of training during wartime as opposed to during extended peacetime. I take that to mean that the quality and intensity of training was higher as a result of what each student brought to each training: a constant mindfulness of the proximity of death.

    Zen Buddhism seems to have neatly served a purpose here, as you rightly characterise, by aiding focus and perhaps also helping to "debrief" battlefield stress. But I believe it also helped *shape* thinking about death, and not just thinking but cultural norms about what constituted a "good" death, a "kakoi" death. The tales of how particularly monks faced their own deaths were widely disseminated in anthologies dating back to Sung China, and these must have served as a model for expected behaviour. An ideal for sure, that doesn't record the quotidian experiences of battle, which is probably, as a Hoplologist, what you are more interested in Bruce.

    b

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    Quote Originally Posted by ichibyoshi
    Zen Buddhism seems to have neatly served a purpose here, as you rightly characterise, by aiding focus and perhaps also helping to "debrief" battlefield stress. But I believe it also helped *shape* thinking about death, and not just thinking but cultural norms about what constituted a "good" death, a "kakoi" death. The tales of how particularly monks faced their own deaths were widely disseminated in anthologies dating back to Sung China, and these must have served as a model for expected behaviour. An ideal for sure, that doesn't record the quotidian experiences of battle, which is probably, as a Hoplologist, what you are more interested in Bruce.

    b
    Great reply, thanks. What you have to say here makes a lot of sense. Erasmus' second rule is "Act upon your faith. Even if you must undergo the loss of everything." (Enchridion Militis Christiani: A Guide for the rightous protector, by Erasmus, 1503). Military men have thought alike across the centuries.
    Best regards,
    Bruce Mitchell

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    I'd like to chime in here with some physiological stuff; my background is in neuroscience, and I feel that much of that has strong implications for explaining the more traditionally "spiritual" phenomena that we see in martial arts.

    For instance: There are many studies about stress and memory; the basic conclusion being that stress impairs recall of certain things and working memory. What does that mean? It means that people freeze, they get stage fright and mind-blanks. It also means that they can't think about as many things at once, their ability to multitask and remember what just happened is impaired.

    Another thing: Mental context of how you view the scene is extremely important towards what your emotional response is. Put yourself in a place that is normally associated with being adrenalized and you may find yourself getting excited, even if there is nothing to get excited about. Picture yourself on an empty stage, or walking through an empty stadium. What Zen practice might, MIGHT, give the warrior, is a way of changing the context in which he views the battlefield. One could call it similar to a ritual that endows confidence and calmness, much like Crusaders crossing themselves before battle.

    I'm not entirely convinced, either, that Zen endows a casualness towards life and death. I think it aims to get you to stop thinking about it, to stop being self-conscious. Why do a lot of basketball pros miss free throws, even when they're perfectly capable of doing it while on the run, from a harder angle? They get nervous and start thinking about it too much. The frontal lobe adds extra signal to the motor cortex that screws them up. This supposedly cavalier attitude towards death is, I feel, in part to stop the flinch reflex. You stop thinking things like "Hmm, this move will take his head, but he's going to get my leg. Is this worthwhile?" Or it could give you the edge in the battlefield equivalent of a game of chicken, where you're headed for ai-uchi but one person ends up flinching because they're thinking too much about not getting hit. The brain ends up trying to send two simultaneous signals--the "kill them" and the "save me" signals, and when that happens, your body locks up. That, I think, is what they mean by clearing your mind, not caring about death, and not letting your mind get clouded.

    On a seperate note, I'm not too clear on the historical aspects of religion and the samurai. I'm surprised, though, that the idea of the warrior sage/poet has not been brought up. Looking at the myths and stories that are put forth as heroic sagas is very useful for understanding what people were trying to emulate. Samurai kids were raised on these stories of warriors reciting beautiful poetry in the midst of battle, and people dying for abstractions of honor. Somewhere in this you have the idea of the samurai as not just a warrior, but also a classical scholar. You get people falling in love with the idea of the fury of the battlefield and the calm meditation on the mountaintop. Many of the Chinese classics, such as Three Kingdoms and Marsh Chronicles, have powerful warriors who are also highly educated. Think of the contrast given between Lu Bu and Guan Yu--the former is the strongest warrior in all of China, but ultimately comes to a bad end because he is of a traitorous disposition. Guan Yu is a hero, not just for his strength of his polearm, but for the strength of his beliefs as well. I think the ideal of the warrior-sage might be one to think about.

    Oh, and on a completely speculative note, many schools were founded by someone who went up on a mountain, meditated, and had a flash of [gods given] insight and went on to achieve greatness. Given Zen's intuitive emphasis, I wonder if that might have also influenced their attitudes towards Zen.
    Yulin Zhuang
    <a href="http://www.ny-jss.org/">Nichibukan
    Japanese Swordsmanship Society (JSS)</a>

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    Hi Yulin,
    Nice to see you posting here. Please say hello to everyone at the dojo for me.

    In On Combat Lt. Col. Dave Grossman addresses many of the elements that you mention (specifically in Chap. 4 "Memory loss, memory distortions, and the role of videotaping" and in Chap. 5 "The Klinger Study, a parallel Study in Perceptual Disorders"). I would also recommend books by Loren Christensen and Bruce Siddle to anyone who is interested in this topic. However, it is my understanding that specificity in training is the most important element in overcoming these elements before, during, or after combat. Zen training, no matter how severe, does not ellicite the same stress response, and therefore would be ineffective at inoculating against the stress of combat. A couple of other authors who will give you the straight dope on training methods without all of the science are Marc "Animal" MacYoung, and Peyton Quinn.

    In reference to the Crusaders, I would bring up the point that the samurai were much more likely to engage in esoteric mikkyo practices, such as using mudra before a battle then they would be to "get Zen".

    As far as the warrior-sage-poet thing, my understanding is that for the most part those accouints are ficticious. Many of our Vietnam era soldiers grew up watching John Wayne, but that image has actually done more harm to veterens then good (after all, John Wayne never lost control of his bowels, but it an extremely common combat stress response).

    Lastly, many schools were founded by people who then followed tradition and dutifully reported that they went up on a mountain and partied with the gods. My understanding is that this was the standard form of writing down the history of your art.

    Great post Yulin, I look forward to what else you may have to add. Also please correct me if I am off base on any of this, my studies are all informal .
    Best regards,
    Bruce Mitchell

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