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 the West. Its disadvantage is that the technique is so complex that the effect of anything beyond technique is masked.

It is easiest to have a first experience-flash of Zen realization in some Way like flower arrangement, in a static environment, but the combative arts are capable of a clearer expression of Zen because they require immediate response in a potentially serious situation. It is true that today they are mainly practised as sports, but the tension at time of contest is sometimes as great as at times of real danger. It is worth remembering also that Musashi, a veteran duellist, felt so nervous when brushing a picture that he could not go on (see page 124).

There is hardly any systematic instruction in the Ways as such. Most teachers teach technique and method of practice. The stories, analogies or verses given here are to alert the student to something which, if he is seriously practising, will come occasionally in his own experience. When he has isolated it, he can cultivate it.

In this section I am presenting some of the background so that the next section of extracts from the so-called ‘secret scrolls’ can be appreciated. It must be said that Japanese are prone to use words very loosely; the same thing may be called spirit, essence of mind, true self, way of heaven, the great ultimate and so on. But the pairing of inspiration and formal technique (ri and ji), and heart and vital energy (shin and ki) are fairly standard in all the Ways.

The central notion of going beyond technique, and indeed beyond thought, is so unfamiliar here that it is best presented through the traditions of the knightly arts, where men risked their lives on it. The main thing to realize is, that it is not a question of established tricks simply going into action automatically as a sort of reflex. The manifestation of ri is quite different from the established techniques which have been learnt; this point should be noticed carefully – it comes again and again in the texts. It is the very reverse of mechanical repetition, because it is creative.

A Way as such is hardly ever taught directly; perhaps it cannot be taught directly – a pupil has to find out for himself. As an indication, let me say that I have known only a handful of men who could always demonstrate the Way in their judo, but quite a number who at times have had an experience of transcending the normal limits of their technique. Sometimes the man himself does not realize what has happened, and just says, ‘Something sort of came to me.’ The point of having literature on the Ways is to make these happenings clear for what they are, and so encourage him to cultivate the conditions which helj) them to manifest. To read this kind of literature without practising a field of a Way may be annoying as well as fruitless.

 

 

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