Introduction

Zen is a Japanese word derived through a Chinese approximate pronunciation from the Buddhist hybrid Sanskrit ‘dhyana’, which means illumined trance. The word is written in Japanese with the Chinese character imported along with the concept.   The left-hand side of the character is what is called the radical, and gives the general class to which it belongs 5 this radical is associated with religion and with happiness. It is itself a character. It is  similar to (and often confused with) another radical, which has the meaning ‘garment’. The right-hand side gives a rough guide to the pronunciation, but this too is often chosen, out of several possible ones, for its appropriateness, here the right-hand side means ‘alone’. It is a character in its own right. Most Chinese characters have at least two pronunciations in Japan. One is an approximation to the way the Chinese pronounced them (in the sixth, …

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Koan Zen

Koan Zen The principle of the koan (literally an official declaration) is something like English case-law, or collating scientific observations: a principle is extracted from concrete individual cases. In theory anything, if investigated to the limit, reveals Buddha-nature, and not merely theoretically but practically. But most ordinary things do not have enough ‘charge’ of feeling to hold attention for very long, and in many cases the principle is difficult to observe because it is masked by the circumstances. If one wants to discover, or confirm, the effect of gravity, one should not choose as his field of experiment and observation the fall of a feather. Gravity is as fully operative there as anywhere, but the influence of air resistance, wind and so on obscure its working. Advanced students do indeed tackle just such problems, but they are not appropriate when establishing the basic principle. In any life which is controlled …

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Mushin

Mushin (without heart, without mind) means: (1) complete cutting off of the thought-streams5 (2) freedom from unnecessary thoughts while engaged in some activity. There are those who disregard the first as some sort of exaggeration, but it is clear that Daikaku and Bukko meant it literally. Westerners who identify consciousness with thought, which is only a movement in it, tend to think that absence of thought would be something like deep sleep or a total annihilation – there would be nothing left at all. Zen teachers are not much concerned with this objection on the intellectual plane; they are concerned with it on the emotional plane, when it seems to a student on the brink that mushin would be a great death. All the koans are designed to wrap thought and feeling into one bundle, which is then thrown out. Something remains, provisionally described in terms of immensity of space, …

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The wave

Hokusai’s famous picture of the wave shows men and boats and Mount Fuji. The men and their efforts are details in the great surge of nature. There are four special points from the Zen standpoint: Children think the wave is a thing, a separate body of water moving over the surface of the sea, and different from the other waves and from the sea itself. When they are taught to observe carefully, they find there is nothing to be distinguished as a separate wave5 the wave is a moving phenomenon in the great sea. It still makes sense to speak of a wave, but only as a theoretically separate entity. The wave is about to crash on the boats and on Mount Fuji. The wave cannot crash on Fuji because Fuji is far distant, though it looks as if it is under the wave. There is no paper in the …

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Dragon-head snake-tail in Zen

In Chinese mythology the dragon is the transcendent, which lives in watery depths but mounts the heavens at times of storm, showing itself as the flash of lightning tearing the blackness of the clouds. To the snake’s eye (what we should call the worm’s eye) the dragon head is strange and awe-inspiring; it is supported by a mighty body and huge claws which rend the thick clouds of relative experience. There is a phrase, ‘ dragon-head snake-tail’ – a thing of magnificent promise which tails off abruptly. Some great phrase like ‘heaven and I of one root’, or ‘clear and bright for ten thousand miles’, is a dragon head. But if the life, including the way of uttering it, are not in accord with the phrase, it has a snake tail. A dragon’s body must back up the dragon-head phrase, showing strength and inspiration, not necessarily in dramatic posturings but …

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Part Two Kamakura Zen

Introduction The Zen tradition is said to be ‘outside the scriptures, not setting up words, a finger direct to the human heart, seeing the nature to be Buddha’. It was brought from India by Bodhidharma, who came to China by sea in AD 520 according to tradition5 one of the koan riddles is the meaning of this journey from the West by the patriarch (p. 119). In China the tradition assumed certain forms which experience showed to be suited to the mind of the people. These forms were called collectively ‘patriarchal Zen’ as distinguished from the ‘Buddha Zen’ of India. Patriarchal Zen mostly concerns stories of Tang dynasty Chinese masters, which were used as koan riddles. After several introductions to Japan, this Zen took firm root in the thirteenth century. But there was a difference between the lines founded by Japanese monks like Eisai and Dogen, who had gone to …

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Political background

The Hojo family provided the Regents, the de facto rulers of Japan, for well over a century after Hojo Tokimasa in 1203. It attained power by what would now be called a pre-emptive strike, but ruled in the main effectively and justly. Under the Hojos the country met and repelled two great invasions from the mainland. The greatest figures among the Hojos, Tokiyori and Tokimune, led strict Buddhist lives, with shaven head and practising extreme simplicity. Tokiyori used to investigate the state of the country by travelling around incognito, and was widely respected and revered. When about to die, he sat in the meditation posture, wrote his ‘death poem’ according to Zen tradition and passed away in tranquillity. Tokiyori and Tokimune both mastered Zen, mainly under the instructions of Chinese priests, of whom Daikaku and Bukko were the most prominent. These were of the Rinzai sect, but it is to …

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Daikaku

Daikaku is the formal title of a Chinese monk named Tao Lung, pronounced by the Japanese Doryu, and also called by them Rankei. He was born in Szechuan in 1205. Then as now the people speak a dialect different from that of other regions of China. He became a monk at the age of thirteen, and visited various teachers (including Mujun, later the teacher of Bukko) without making a ‘connection’. Finally he met a teacher with whom he practised for a long time. He was set the koan of the water-buffalo going through the window (all of it got through except the tail which stuck). Suddenly one day the age-old illusion vanished like morning mist and he saw the true landscape which had been hidden. This was some time before he was thirty-four, when he met Japanese monks who invited him to Japan, where he arrived in 1246. Daikaku went …

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On meditation Zazenron

Zazen is the gate to the great liberation, all dharmas flow out of it, and the thousand practices come from it. The divine powers of wisdom arise from within it, the way of man and of heaven opens out from it. All the Buddhas come and go through this gate, and the Bodhisattva enters his practice by it. Those of the Hinayana stop half-way, and those on the outer paths do not get on to the right road at all despite all their efforts. No doctrine, open or secret, leads to Buddhahood without this practice. Question: What does it mean to say that zazen is the root of all dharmas? Answer: Zen is the inner heart of the Buddha. Right conduct is his outer form, the doctrine is his word, nembutsu (mantra) is his name, but they all come from the Buddha heart and so it is their source. Question: …

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Sayings of Daikaku

Zen practice is not clarifying conceptual distinctions, but throwing away one’s preconceived views and notions and the sacred texts and all the rest, and piercing through the layers of coverings over the spring of self behind them. All the holy ones have turned within and sought in the self, and by this went beyond all doubt. To turn within means all the twenty-four hours and in every situation, to pierce one by one through the layers covering the self, deeper and deeper, to a place which cannot be described. It is when thinking comes to an end and making distinctions ceases, when wrong views and ideas disajjpear of themselves without having to be driven forth, when without being- sought the true action and true impulse appear of themselves. It is when one can know what is the truth of the heart. The man resolute in the way must from the …

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Bukko

Bukko Zenji (Zen master Buddha-light) was a posthumous title conferred, by the Japanese Emperor, on a Chinese monk whose name was Tsu yuen, pronounced by the Japanese Sogen. He has also the names Mugaku, Shigen and some others. In this book he is called simply Bukko. He was born in 1226, and as a child was always fond of temples and Buddhism. One day when he had accompanied his father to a temple and was playing in the garden, he heard a monk chanting the verse from a famous Taoist classic called Saikondan: The shadow of the bamboo sweeps the steps, But the dust does not stir; The moon’s disc bores into the lake But the water shows no scar. This verse seized on his mind, and he finally made up his mind to renounce the world. When his father died next year, he became a monk, at the age …

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Outline of Bukko’s teachings

The way out of life-and-death is not some special technique; the essential thing is to see through to the root of life-and-death. That root is not something that fell from heaven or sprang up from earth; it is at the centre of the functioning of every man, living with his life, dying with his death, becoming a Buddha, making a patriarch. These are all in dependence on it, and one who goes into Zen has to pierce and break through to this thing. What is called Zen sitting is not some sort of operation to be performed, and to take it so is wrong. In our line, it is simply realizing what one’s own true heart really is, and it is necessary to pledge oneself to the true heart. Going into Zen is seeing one’s original nature, and the main thing is to make out what one was before even …

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Part Three Kamakura Koans Introduction

The collection of Japanese ‘on-the-instant’ koans, called Shonan- kattoroku, is almost unknown even to specialists. It is a record of Zen interviews given to lay pupils, from the very beginning of Zen in Japan in the thirteenth century up to the sixteenth century. The text has survived only by a series of unusual circumstances, set out briefly in a previous section and given in detail in two of the appendices to this book. There is a brief reference to it in Hayashi’s History of the Japanese Zen Sects (1938), where two of the stories are quoted, with Imai Fukuzan’s booklet as the source. In a collection of Zen stories published in 1951, the head of Kenninji temple included one story, amending the old-fashioned Japanese in places, and including the sassho test which Imai had put to the story. So Imai must have been the source here also. In the note …

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The Heart Sutra

The Heart Sutra is frequently referred to in Zen Buddhism; in some monasteries it is recited at every meal, and the monks are expected to know it by heart. There are some minor variations, but the Sutra consists of a little over two hundred Chinese characters, each of which is a monosyllable. Here is a translation which follows the commentary of a well-known Zen master of this century, Obora Ryoun. ‘When the Bodhisattva Kannon was practising the profound Prajna Paramita wisdom he saw all the five aggregates to be Emptiness, and passed beyond suffering. O disciple Shariputra, form is not different from Emptiness, Emptiness is not different from form; form is Emptiness and Emptiness is form; and so also with sensation, thinking, impulse and consciousness. All these things, Shariputra, have the character of Emptiness, neither born nor dying, neither defiled nor pure, neither increased nor lessened. So in Emptiness there …

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Zen and the Ways part four

Introduction What are called the Ways are fractional expressions of Zen in limited fields such as the fighting arts of sword or spear, literary arts like poetry or calligraphy, and household duties like serving tea, polishing, or flower arrangement. These actions become Ways when practice is done not merely for the immediate result but also with a view to purifying, calming and focusing the psycho-physical apparatus, to attain to some degree of Zen realization and express it. This is not a book on the Ways, but on Zen influence in them, and little is said here about technique. It is an axiom that what applies in one Way has some application to others. Some of the examples are taken from judo, in which I can draw upon my own experience as a student and later as a teacher, and which is the most widely practised field of a Way in …

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Zen and the Ways

Zen masters are not keen on verbal definitions of Buddha-nature, because they are at once converted by a hearer into mental constructs like the other mental constructs which constitute his world. As such they are on an illusory basis and become obstructions to actual Buddha- realization. However, something is said of Buddha-nature in expression: Buddha-without- Monju (wisdom) holding a sword (power) mental-constructs (2) (3) = Void Fugen {compassion) holding a lotus (beauty) Wisdom and compassion are mental constructs of the highest clarity and serenity, through which as through a very fine veil the Void is seen and expressed. When the last veil is removed there is nothing to be said or thought, for there are no mental constructs with which to think or speak. See the story ‘Painting the Nature’, on p. 107. This point comes again and again in Zen. (1) The phrase ‘no mental constructs’ can be bewildering …

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Ri and ji

Ri and ji are well-known terms in Buddhism, meaning respectively universal truth and a particular event. In the Ways they have special meanings. Ri is something like inspired following of the inner lines of the universal flow: it includes feeling-into the true nature of the material at hand, the space-time relations, and also the moral situation. The true inner lines of a situation are expressions of Buddha-nature, and most clearly appreciated as beauty and power. To do something ‘muri’ or without-ri is to force a result, using unnatural and therefore ultimately wasteful and tiring means. To shout someone down in an argument, to use advantages of wealth, prestige or physical strength to override the legitimate interests of others, to chop wood across the grain, to bang the keys of a typewriter – all these are examples of muri. It has been said that muri is doing things without love for …

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Shin and ki

Shin is the technical word for ‘heart’, including all we call mind and more. Ki is something like ‘vital spirit’. An example is better than theory: in picking up a teacup or throwing an opponent, shin is the notion of doing it, including the emotional colouring, ki is the ‘feel’ of initiating and continuing the movement conformably to distances and timing. What is technically called strength is grasping the teacup or making the throw: ki is still functioning, but with untrained people it tends to be felt less clearly when strength is being exerted. These things may be pure and in conformity with the cosmic principle (ri), or impure and centred round an individual self. When shin is pure, thoughts do not arise from selfishness or passion, and inspiration passes through it. When impure, it is distorted and dark: everything has to pass through filters of ‘will this be good …

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Isshin and zanshin

Isshin (one-heart) means to throw oneself wholly into the action without any other thought at all. Zanshin (remaining-heart) means some awareness still remaining. Some of the texts give both, some of them do not mention zanshin at all, and some of them mention it but say that the heading ‘zanshin’ means that there must be no zanshin. With a spear, isshin is to commit one’s body wholly to the thrust; in a judo throw, it means to throw one’s body and heart at the opponent. If the action is technically defective, or the opponent more skilful, it will miss; then one is generally in an unfavourable position. On the other hand, the mere impetuosity and immediacy and completeness of the movement may have so upset him that he cannot utilize his momentary advantage. Still, in theory might it not be better to take into account possible failure, and keep something …

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Not setting the mind

The mind turns in accordance with the ten thousand things; The pivot on which it turns is verily hard to know. Zen verse (much quoted in the Ways) Like many of the Buddhist verses and aphorisms, this verse about not letting the mind get set, but keeping it freely turning on a pivot, seems vaguely ‘wise’, but is soon abandoned in practice. A fencer comes out without setting his mind on his opponent’s techniques or his own, and his movement becomes slack, so that he gets a hit on the head at once. The calligrapher goes to write without letting his mind be set on the proper way of writing the character; the result is a sprawling mess. It is true that in this last case, he may persuade himself that he has written well, in an unorthodox manner; but the archer who has missed by a mile has no …

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Thrust without thrusting

Do not thrust with the mind, Do not thrust with the hands, Let the spear make the thrust – Thrust without thrusting. From the Hundred Verses of the Spear This verse has a relation to the interviews described in koan no. 44 of the Shonankattoroku, where the Zen teacher says, ‘No spear in the hands, no hands on the spear. If you don’t understand, your art of the spear is a little affair of the hands alone.’ The interview with Gio (arrived in Japan 1246) is probably the first reference to Zen in the Ways in Japanese literature . There is a tendency to read a contradiction like ‘thrust without thrusting’ as a poetic conceit. Perhaps it means that the thrust should be in a calm spirit, without passionate desire to hit the opponent? The normal thrust after all includes, in fact is based on, this desire, so perhaps a …

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Falling

A drunken man falls from his carriage without hurting himself seriously, remarked Chuang-tsu over two thousand years ago. This is because his body is relaxed and his spirit ‘entire’. But actually confronting a fall, this knowledge is no use5 the body automatically contracts and stiffens. A judo student has to be trained to fall, to meet the ground all together instead of trying to keep off the ground and taking all the shock on one small point such as the wrist. After a time he can meet a fall on the judo mat, and if the teacher says ‘Fall’ he can do so. Still something is lacking. One day the teacher comes up behind him quietly, and pulls him sharply over. If he falls then properly, it is ‘part of him’, he does it without knowing what he is doing. If the surprise makes him stiffen up, his training is …

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Faith

If you feel that the teacher is a real teacher Then give up your own ideas, and learn. First verse of the Hundred Verses of the Spear If a pupil comes to him simply to get a little skill in the art, the teacher finds his strong point, what comes most naturally to him as he now is, and develops that. It gives quick results and fulfils the end. But if someone comes who wants to master the art and give himself to it, the instruction is often the reverse. The teacher has to find out the weak points, and by special training bring them up to the level of the rest. Then he develops the whole range together. This kind of training produces in the pupil at various times a crisis of faith: faith in the teacher, and faith in himself. The teacher has to modify his instruction according …

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Dragon masks

With age, a judo expert’s speed begins to decline, and he has to find means to offset this against up-and-coming opponents. One of them is to establish a psychological ascendency over a younger man who may be actually stronger in fighting ability. This can be done by preventing the junior from estimating the respective standards of ability. An experienced man can make an estimate easily in most cases by merely looking at the movement, but a young man generally cannot do it without something definite to work on, and he can be prevented from getting the information. The senior’s attacking policy is to attempt to throw only when it is certain to succeed – in other words, never to fail in a throw. This often means waiting for quite a time till the opponent takes some risk and so gives an opportunity. But promising young judo men take risks all …

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Texts of the Ways

Introduction The secret scrolls of the various Ways, generally given only to graduating pupils, were mainly memoranda of instruction given verbally. They were made deliberately obscure so that outsiders who might see them would not be able to understand. They are mostly in brief paragraphs with a heading, or else in verse. Sometimes there is only the heading, with under it the words ‘oral tradition (kuden). There is a good deal of repetition – some of the verses, for instance, are identical in scrolls of sword, spear and archery. The extracts given here have not to my knowledge been translated before. I have tried to choose representative sections which are yet not so obscure as to defy translation. Readers who are themselves engaged in some activity as a Way will be able to find an application in them. I have chosen from the traditions of the martial schools because these …

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Heihokadensho

About AD 1630 It was said of old: ‘The fighting man is an ill-omened instrument$ the Way of Heaven has no love for him, yet has to make use of him, and this is the Way of Heaven.’ The bow and arrow, the swords short and long, are unblessed tools of fighting and of ill omen. Therefore as the Heavenly Way is a way of giving life to things, and these are the contrary, being means of killing, they are really instruments of ill omen. They can be said to take part in transgression of the Way of Heaven. And yet, when it is unavoidable, making use of them to kill people is also said to be the Way of Heaven. How can this be? With the breeze of spring, flowers bloom and their colours vie with each other: with the frost of autumn, leaves fall and the trees are …

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Songs of the Way of the Spear

Hozoin School (about AD 1600) By what I did yesterday, I win today; This is the virtue of practice. Remember the old saying, The plan for a day is a cock’s crow, The plan for a life is something serious. In the knightly arts, first see that you yourself are right, And after that think of defeating an opponent. The unskilled man does not know his own faults. And yet dreams vainly of defeating another. The Way is first of all about one’s own defects; After that, you can defeat others. Without knowing the stains and faults in one’s own self, How empty to dream of victory over others! In the knightly arts, if a man’s will is right There is no doubt of his ultimate victory. Don’t think to win just by force; There is hard in the soft, soft in the hard. ‘Softness is just weakness’, some say; …

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Jujutsu school, late eighteenth century

Shin-no-Shin-To-Ryu Some who have trained at fencing with wooden swords have worked out a trick of striking at the space just in front of the opponent’s head (instead of squarely on top of the head in the orthodox cut). In this way they catch him with the very tip of the sword, and can make the attack from a little further off, with a gain in reach. But there would be nothing like this in actual combat. How often is an enemy despatched by a cut of only a couple of inchesPAnd especially if he w ere in armour, he would probably not even be wounded. It is well said that one should think deeply and train the heart, for the principal thing is the ri. When the enemy comes jumping at you, flying through the air like a bird, the spirit has to be perfectly controlled and the inner …

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Tengugeijutsuron

Most of the scrolls of the Ways are at least 80 per cent technical, and the theoretical presentation – such as it is – is overwhelmingly in terms of Zen. There are some other influences, for example from Shingon Buddhism and from Taoism, especially in the jujutsu schools in the eighteenth century the Confucian element shows itself more and more strongly. In the eclectic Japanese manner, these various traditions are mingled and not felt to contradict each other on essential points. It must be remembered that in general the traditions themselves were tolerant $ the Zen priest Takuan, for example, approved of the Confucian ideal for men in the world. The Ways also were not regarded as necessarily distinct. A teacher of the Jigenryu school of the sword, which derived from (or was transmitted by) a Zen master, Zenkichi, at the end of the sixteenth century, taught etiquette, archery, horsemanship, …

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Reading a Zen story

The following is a story which has been reproduced in several anthologies since it first appeared in my own First Zen Reader in 1960. I have sometimes heard it discussed, and it seems that many people miss half the point. If one is attracted to a story, it is proper to read it carefully, and find out whether there is perhaps more in it than the obvious surface point, important though that is. Here is the story. At the end of it a ‘test’ will be proposed. A young man who had a bitter disappointment in life went to a remote monastery and said to the abbot: ‘I am disillusioned with life and wish to attain enlightenment to be freed from these sufferings. But I have no capacity for sticking long at anything. I could never do long years of meditation and study and austerity; I should relapse and be …

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Tesshu

Tesshu was a fencing master of the late nineteenth century, who had also completed the full course of Zen under the great master Tekisui of Tenryuji. An inquirer came to him asking for a discourse on the Rinzairoku classic. ‘The Rinzairoku? Why, sermons are given on it regularly at Enkakuji; you’d better go and hear Master Kosen there.’ ‘I have been to hear him, but I still don’t feel I really understand it. Now I know that you are an expert in fencing as well as Zen, and I have done quite a bit of fencing myself, so I thought perhaps it would be easier to understand if I had an explanation from you.’ ‘All right, then you had better change into fencing gear’, and overruling the guest’s surprise he made him practise fencing till he was pouring with sweat and exhausted. After they had bathed in cold water and …

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Disadvantages

A seventeen-year-old judo student who was very promising lost his right arm in an accident. When he recovered he began to go to the judo training hall again, and practise with the loose sleeve tucked into his belt. He could not throw anyone except a few friends who let him do so; when he told them to try hard his defences were completely broken, and he could not get near to a throw himself. His parents consulted with the judo teacher, and they made attempts to interest him in something else. ‘You have a fine judo spirit,’ the teacher told him, ‘and now you can use that spirit to excel in something where you don’t need two arms. You might try table tennis – show them what the judo spirit can do in that.’ But his interest could not be diverted from judo. This sometimes happens – for a time …

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Endurance

In most of the martial arts there is a ‘cold practice’ in the middle of the winter when the students practise an hour or so with all the windows wide open. Some artists and poets do something similar. One poem composed on such an occasion was: Meditating that the Buddhas of the three worlds Are seated all around us, We do not feel the cold. The chess champions have their own practice of endurance – it consists in the ability to sit motionless for hours together. I once watched the then champion Yoshio Kimura playing a championship game. He sat at the board like a statue, with his eyes half shut. His younger opponent was very fidgety – because there was only one move which Kimura could reasonably make. However, he did not make it for ten minutes. In the end his opponent became so irritable with these delaying tactics …

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Inner archery

Early in this century a Japanese Zen master who lived in a temple in the country had as his pupil the wife of the greengrocer of a near-by village. Among his other pupils was a Cabinet Minister, who used to visit him once a week to sit in meditation for two hours and then have an interview. A newspaper sent a reporter to visit this teacher, and the pressman remarked, ‘Why do you waste yourself in a remote place like this? Wouldn’t it be better to come near the capital? Then instead of the greengrocer’s wife, you could have more pupils like the Cabinet Minister.’ In his article, the reporter described ruefully how the teacher had scolded him for this remark. ‘It is not a question of being the greengrocer’s wife or being a Cabinet Minister, but of not being a greengrocer’s wife and not being a Cabinet Minister. We …

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Teaching methods

There are numerous stories concerned with a man – perhaps a farmer – completely ignorant of fencing who has to fight a duel against an expert. He consults with a master of the Way, a retired fencer, who tells him what to do. In many of the stories the master tells him that he must make up his mind that he has no chance of saving his own life; the best he can do is kill his adversary at the same time. He makes the farmer sit and meditate on this for some time, until at last the latter says, ‘I am resolved now – there’s no escape for me, and all I want to do is to preserve honour by taking his life for mine.’ Then the master goes with him to the courtyard where the duel is to be fought the next day. The master looks for some …

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Janken

A soldier has a battle to face the next day, or a student an important examination, or a sportsman an important contest. He knows there is no more he can do now; he should simply have a good night’s rest. Yet he remains awake. Silly. Reason tells him that to worry about what may happen tires him and makes failure more likely. Yet in spite of all, he remains awake and in tension. Even his deepest self-interest, supported by reason and persuasion, cannot manipulate the streams of thought. A second-best way is simply to accept the condition. An experienced duellist was sitting up with friends playing cards before the encounter. One of them said ‘Don’t you think you should turn in? Your opponent is already in bed.’ ‘Yes,’ was the reply, ‘in bed but not asleep.’ This may suffice when a man’s concern is for himself alone, and when the …

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The rat

A fencing teacher on a journey visited a temple, and was given hospitality by the priest whom he knew. The food was served to him when he arrived, laid before him respectfully by a small boy who then sat on the other side of the room perfectly still while he ate. On the hot summer evening the sliding doors into the garden were open, and the master noticed a rat creeping stealthily in. The boy sat like a statue as it passed in front of him, then suddenly lunged forward, caught it and flung it out with one movement. The master went on eating with no remark. Next day he asked the priest, ‘Who is that boy?’ ‘An orphan’, was the reply, ‘whom we took in because no one would have him. He has no inclination to Buddhism5 he is a very wild boy whose only interest is in fencing. …

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Music

In the East the highest kind of music is that which sends the listener into samadhi. The silence which follows is an essential part of the music. The audience should be in the state of people who are watching the sun setting into the sea – they forget the circumstances which brought them there, they forget words like ‘sun’ and ‘sea’, they forget their own names and individualities. After the sun has gone, for a time there is no impulse to move – certainly not to clap or applaud. A Far Eastern tradition says that Indian music derives from that played by the gods in the Lumbini Grove at the time of the birth of Buddha. The ancient Chinese chin – a sort of horizontal harp with seven strings – is audible to only a very short range round the player. The chin has nacre studs set at intervals along …

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The bell

This was when Ekido was abbot of the Zen temple Tentoku-in, in the nineteenth century. One morning he heard the dawn bell being rung and after a little he called his attendant from the next room and asked. ‘Who is ringing the bell this morning?’ The attendant said it was a newly entered boy. The abbot later called the boy and asked, ‘When you rang the dawn bell today, what were you thinking about?’ ‘Nothing special. I was just ringing the bell.’ The abbot said, ‘No, there must have been something in your mind. Well anyway, when you ring the bell, always do it as you did today. It was no ordinary ringing.’ Then the boy said, ‘I once heard that whatever we do, it must be service of the Buddha. I was told to meditate on the things as Buddha. So this morning I was thinking that the bell …

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The fortune-teller

Yagyu Munenori was a great student of fencing technique, and there was a standing invitation to any challenger to come to his house and have a contest with him with wooden swords. Afterwards Yagyu used to discuss fencing with the opponent over a meal ; even if the other had lost, there was often something to be learnt from his techniques. There were many unorthodox styles of fencing which relied mainly on surprise, and it was essential for the teacher of fencing to the rulers of Japan to know about all of them. Some of the wandering swordsmen were wild figures, like the famous Musashi who used to dress almost like a tramp. One day an extraordinary figure appeared to challenge Yagyu. He was very thin and held the sword in an unusual way. There were at the time two main styles of contest technique: to wait cautiously for an …

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