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The Myth of Zen Connection to Bushido and Martial Arts

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The Myth of Zen Connection to Bushido and Martial Arts

Postby jundo on Sat Mar 04, 2017 6:40 am

Dear Zen Warriors,

A recent historian's article sheds some light on the myth and actual lack of Zen Buddhism's special connection to and influence upon Samurai, Bushido (the so-called "Way of the Warrior") and the modern martial arts in Japan. I had heard these descriptions several places before in bit and pieces, but the article does an excellent job of pulling the whole story together and telling the whole tale. I recommend it, but really only for our Zen history wonks and those folks who might have a special interest in the topic of Zen and the martial arts.

In a nutshell, the typical samurai warrior of the past engaged in a variety of Buddhist, Shinto and other religious practices, and the evidence shows very few with the inclination, education and understanding or time to delve deeply into Zen practices much or alone. The "myth" of the deep connection between Zen and the samurai (as well as the whole romantic image of an ancient "Way of the Warrior") was created largely out of Meiji period imaginations by certain Japanese authors (D.T. Suzuki among others) who invented or embraced a mythology in order to defend Japanese culture and Buddhism, linking the latter to the new sense of nation and patriotism at the end of the 19th century, start of the 20th century. Likewise for the link between Zen and the martial arts such as sword fighting and Karate. Although there were connections here and there in the past, they are often misunderstood or exaggerated, and this image was also something developed not so long ago.

Now, the above does not mean that many individuals, now and in the past, have not found great harmony and mutual strengthening between their martial arts practice and Zen practice. Many have and do. It is much as one can find harmony between Zen Practice and countless activities, from martial arts to tea to childcare and car repair to piano playing to gardening to .... all arts and actions of life.

It is available both online and in PDF.
http://apjjf.org/2016/17/Benesch.html

Reconsidering Zen, Samurai, and the Martial Arts
by Oleg Benesch
Oleg Benesch is a Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in East Asian History at the University of York in the UK. He holds a Ph.D. in Asian Studies from the University of British Columbia. He is the author of Inventing the Way of the Samurai: Nationalism, Internationalism, and Bushido in Modern Japan (2014) ... from Oxford University Press


Gassho, Jundo

(Sat Today, then watching the kids as my wife, an Aikido 4th Dan is off to her group's retreat)

----------------------------------

A few highlights below-

The popular view that Japanese warriors have long had an affinity for Zen is not entirely incorrect, as Zen institutions did have several powerful patrons in the Kamakura (1185-1333) and Muromachi (1336-1573) periods. On the other hand, recent scholarship indicates that Zen’s popularity among the elite was most often motivated by practical considerations rather than doctrine. Martin Colcutt argues that Zen teachings were too difficult for many lower-ranking warriors, “most of whom continued to find a less demanding, but equally satisfying, religious experience in the simpler Buddhist teachings of Shinran, Nichiren, or Ippen.”10 Colcutt further argues that even at its peak in the late fourteenth century, Zen could be called “the religion of the samurai” merely because most of its followers were warriors, but this did not mean that most warriors followed Zen, let alone reach a high level of practice.11 As other scholars have demonstrated, the vast majority of warriors followed other schools of Buddhism, including both established and new orders, with more accessible teachings.12

Among elite military families, patronage of Zen was based on political, economic, and cultural factors that were largely unrelated to doctrine. On the political front, Zen presented a non-threatening alternative to the powerful Shingon and Tendai Buddhist institutions that dominated Kyoto and were closely allied to the imperial court.13 Economically, trade with China was an important source of revenue for early medieval rulers, and Zen monks’ knowledge of Chinese language and culture, combined with their administrative abilities, made them a natural choice as ambassadors to the continent. ... With regard to the cultural importance of Zen to elites, Zen temples conducted diplomacy with Song (960-1279) and Yuan China (1271-1368), which were the primary sources of artistic and cultural innovations in this period, including tea ceremony, monochromatic painting, calligraphy, poetry, architecture, garden design, and printing.15

...

While many promoters of the Zen-samurai connection focus on the Kamakura period, others situate the relationship much later in the Tokugawa period (1603-1868): ... modern Zen popularizers often cite the interest in swordsmanship displayed by a few Zen figures during the early seventeenth century. However, this does not mean that a significant number of Zen practitioners were also swordsmen, nor does it mean that a majority of the innumerable fencing schools had any Zen connections. As Cameron Hurst writes, “We have to be very careful with the idea of combining Zen and swordsmanship or asserting that ‘swordsmanship and Zen are one’ (kenzen ichinyo). There is no necessary connection between the two, and few warriors were active Zen practitioners.”24

... The ideal of the Zen swordsman is epitomized by the writer Yoshikawa Eiji’s (1892-1962) influential, and largely fictional, portrayal of Miyamoto Musashi (1584?-1645) in his best-selling novels Miyamoto Musashi, first published between 1935 and 1939. Relatively little is known of the historical Musashi, and Yoshikawa fleshed out his narrative by adding many details and anecdotes. One of these involved having Musashi study under the Rinzai Zen master Takuan Sōhō (1573-1645), although there is no evidence that the two men ever met.26 Here, Yoshikawa was inspired by modern promoters of the Zen-samurai connection, and especially the ideas of his close friend, the nationalist Yasuoka Masahiro (1898–1983).27 As Peter Haskel implies, Takuan would have to wait until the modern period to have his greatest influence, as his writings were first picked up by bushidō ideologists in the late imperial period and then revived by businessmen—the so-called “economic soldiers”—in the 1970s and 80s.

With regard to the historical Takuan, while he had no discernible connection with Musashi, and was not a skilled swordsman himself, he did provide guidance to the fencing instructor Yagyū Munenori (1571-1646).29 In his writings to Yagyū, Takuan explained the advantages of Zen training to swordsmen, stating that the concepts of “no-mind” and “immovable wisdom” applied to all activities, including fencing, but this was only one of his interests.30 Takuan was not exclusively interested in martial matters, and his writings were certainly not only addressed to warriors. William Bodiford summarizes the influence of Takuan’s Record of Immovable Wisdom (Fudōchi shinmyōroku), which was finally published in 1779, as follows: “…Takuan’s instructions have been included in innumerable anthologies addressed not only to martial art devotees but to general audiences as well, and thus they have helped promote the popular perception that Zen is an intrinsic element of martial art training. It would perhaps be more accurate to say that success in the martial arts demands mental discipline, a topic about which Zen monks (among others) have much to say.”31

...

Relatively few Zen figures showed an interest in the martial arts, and their attitudes did not necessarily align with the interpretations put forth by modern promoters of “samurai Zen.” On the other hand, like samurai in general, martial arts practitioners in the Tokugawa period were largely ambivalent towards Zen.37 Although many fencing schools incorporated spiritual elements, these were typically an eclectic mix of Shinto, Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, and folk religion specific to the individual teacher.38 In his detailed case study of the Kashima-Shinryū school of martial arts, Karl Friday has argued that it was “compatible with almost any religious affiliation or lack thereof,” and various generations of masters drew upon a wide variety of different religious and philosophical traditions to construct their own spiritual frameworks.39

...

The notion that a samurai-based ethic could benefit the new Japan would have seemed alien to most Japanese until the 1890s. The first major step towards a positive reevaluation of the samurai came through the work of the journalist Ozaki Yukio (1858-1954). ... In a subsequent article in 1891, having returned to Japan, Ozaki cited the popular Victorian argument that English gentlemanship was rooted in medieval chivalry. According to Ozaki, Japan did not necessarily need to import a foreign ethic, as the country had its own “feudal knighthood” that could serve as a model. Ozaki proposed reviving the ethical ideals of the former samurai, which had long been in decline. Here, he proposed a new code that he called the “way of the samurai,” or “bushidō,” which would make Japanese merchants become “strictly faithful, strictly honor agreements, and avoid coarse and vulgar speech.” If such an ethic were not adopted, Ozaki warned, Japan was certain to fail.59

Ozaki’s ideas resonated with many Japanese in a period of disillusionment with both the historical cultural model of China and the new models of the West. ... The 1890s saw many new and repurposed concepts popularized as ancient “native” ethics, and bushido was ideally suited to this purpose. At the same time, Ozaki’s examination of English chivalry and gentlemanship legitimized the use of the samurai as a source for a new morality. The popularity of an ethic based on knighthood in the world’s most powerful country emboldened Japanese thinkers to look towards the former samurai, even if they generally agreed that the samurai spirit had degenerated almost irreparably over the preceding decades. A number of other writings on bushido appeared in the early 1890s, generally referring to Ozaki or responding to his arguments.60 Bushido was given a tremendous boost with the euphoria of victory in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, setting off a “bushido boom” that peaked around the time of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905.

...

The firm establishment of bushido as a commonly accepted and even fashionable concept during and after the Russo-Japanese War led to its adoption by a broad spectrum of institutions and social groups during the decade 1905-1914. By claiming a link to bushido, individuals and organizations promoted sports, religious orders, and other causes in a patriotic manner, providing relatively recent innovations with historical legitimacy apparently stretching back centuries or even millennia. Promoters of the martial arts were among the most active participants in the nationalistic bushido discourse that emerged after 1895. ... Like martial artists, Buddhists came to use bushido to establish a connection with patriotically sound “native” traditions. Meiji Buddhists often had their patriotism and devotion to the national cause called into question, and many came to rely on bushido to prove their “Japaneseness.” Vague references to Buddhism were part of bushido discourse from the Sino-Japanese War onward, as promoters of bushido turned away from Western models and looked to Japanese culture for points of reference.

...

By the early 1900s, Buddhism had established itself in the popular mind as one of the thought systems that broadly contributed to bushido. In the second decade of the Meiji bushido boom—from 1905 to 1914—Buddhist engagement with bushido discourse increased dramatically along with popular interest. Promoters of the Zen schools expended by far the greatest efforts to link their teachings to bushido, and current popular perceptions linking Zen with the samurai are the result of this activity. In spite of a dearth of historical evidence, the supposedly close relationship between Zen and bushido became accepted due to the support it had among some of the most influential figures in broader bushido discourse. ...

...

The notion that Zen had a powerful influence on bushido and the samurai is a construct of the Meiji period, but has shown remarkable resilience. Even after 1945, Zen figures such as Suzuki Daisetsu and Sugawara Gidō (1915-1978) continued to argue for the historicity of the Zen-bushido connection, and this interpretation has remained influential in popular literature and culture in both Japan and abroad up to the present day.90 Suzuki has been subjected to criticism by scholars in recent years, but his influence on popular conceptions of Zen Buddhism remains strong, especially outside of Japan. His works are widely read, and continue to contribute to the notion that Zen formed a sort of spiritual foundation for the samurai in general and bushido in particular. In spite of the widespread rejection of bushido in Japan and abroad immediately after World War II, Suzuki’s works continued to emphasize the importance of the alleged historical connections between bushido and Zen. Partly as a result of his efforts, Zen came to be even more closely identified with the samurai. At the same time, Zen and bushido were detached from problematic associations with the early twentieth century, in spite of the fact that the connection between the two was a product of this very period.

These same dynamics also tied into the development of popular views of Zen’s relationship to the martial arts. The Zen-samurai relationship was the result of conscious efforts on the part of Zen promoters to gain patriotic legitimacy by engaging closely with the burgeoning bushido discourse. In contrast, the relationship between Zen and the martial arts was less straightforward, and developed from a confluence of several factors. One of these was that, aside from Shinto nationalists and state-sponsored proponents of the “imperial” bushido ideology, promoters of Zen and promoters of the martial arts were two of the most active and effective groups tying their interests to bushido. As a result, both Zen and the martial arts were widely seen as closely related to bushido, an impression that was strengthened when direct links between the two were drawn explicitly in popular works by promoters of both, such as Eugen Herrigel. This became especially important following the discrediting of “imperial” bushido in 1945, when the more fantastical elements were stripped from the ideology, leaving behind a vague association between Zen, the samurai, and the martial arts to help revive bushido in the postwar period and carry it on into the twenty-first century.
Last edited by jundo on Sat Mar 04, 2017 9:03 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Myth of Zen Connection to Bushido and Martial Arts

Postby jundo on Sat Mar 04, 2017 6:58 am

And as long as we are on a myth-busting kick in this area ...

Two other related topics that may be of interest to history/martial arts wonks are the equally misunderstood seeming myth of the connection of Bodhidharma, our first Zen Ancestor in China, as a founder of Kung Fu via the Shao-lin temple ...

In fact, the idea of the Zen patriarch physically teaching monks martial arts did not come about until the publishing of a highly popular satirical novel entitled The Travels of Lao Can (老殘遊記) in a magazine between 1904 and 1907. The author apparently confused the qigong attributed to Bodhidharma with martial arts. This mistake was then echoed in the proceeding novel Shaolin School Methods published in a newspaper serial in 1910, and an altered reprint in 1915 called Secrets of Shaolin Boxing. It spread into popular books and manuals on the subject from there, and into the public consciousness. ...
...

There is mixed sentiment towards debunking such myths among martial arts practitioners. On one end of the spectrum, there are some who are greatly offended to the point of anger. For example, during the 1920s and 30s the noted martial arts practitioner and historian Tang Hao (唐豪, 1897-1959) was the first person to seriously call into question the myths concerning Bodhidharma and the Daoist Immortal Zhang Sanfeng (張三丰). [27] A memorial essay about Tang by his friend and fellow martial artist Gu Liuxin (顧留馨) states: “Unhealthy factors such as ridiculous descriptions of Chinese martial arts which included outright fabrications, fantastical stories of Taoist fairies and immortals and strange Buddhist folktales corrupted and tainted people’s thoughts about Chinese martial arts. Tang Hao was merciless in his exposure of such tales and was extremely harsh in his critiques.” [28] This offended the long standing Confucian family-based lineage system where in martial artists thought of their masters and grandmasters as “fathers” and “grandfathers.” Therefore, a lot of people were upset when Tang’s book Study of Shaolin and Wudang (少林武當考, 1920) came out claiming their lineage patriarchs had no connection to martial arts at all.


http://historum.com/blogs/ghostexorcist/218-venerated-forgery-daoist-origins-shaolin-s-famous-yijin-jing-manual.html

... and also the very questionable book "Zen & the Art of Archery", which seems to be largely a combination of the authors imagining what was happening since he could not speak Japanese, and a great deal of misunderstanding about his own teacher, summarized in a quote from the abstract here:

What becomes clear through this analysis is the serious language barrier existing between Awa and Herrigel. The testimony of the interpreter, as well as other evidence, supports the fact that the complex spiritual episodes related in the book occurred either when there was no interpreter present, or were misinterpreted by Herrigel via the interpreter’s intentionally liberal translations. Added to this phenomenon of misunderstanding, whether only coincidental or born out of mistaken interpretation, was the personal desire of Herrigel to pursue things Zen. Out of the above circumstances was born the myth of “Zen in the Art of Archery.”


(I recommend reading the entire article, a fascinating read) ...
Full article:
http://nirc.nanzan-u.ac.jp/nfile/2726

Gassho, Jundo

SatToday (then practiced piano, not the sword)
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Re: The Myth of Zen Connection to Bushido and Martial Arts

Postby Michaeljc on Sat Mar 04, 2017 7:38 am

Lets get into some real myth busting :)

People seeking the way for the sake of unsurpassed awakening do not designate the simple transmitted, directly indicated, unsurpassed dharma of Buddha ancestors as the Zen School. If you use the name Zen School you are not descendants of Buddha ancestors and also have poisonous views.

The Buddha Dharma fundamentally has no outer name or form. Later people falsely established many random names. Although facing the wall at Shaolin resembled dhyana do not call it Zen School and misguide sentient beings.

Dogen: Eihei koroku, Volume 7, Dharma Hall discourse 491, Translators Leighton and Okumura 2010


Dogen elaborates more on this subject but this is enough for now

M
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Re: The Myth of Zen Connection to Bushido and Martial Arts

Postby jundo on Sat Mar 04, 2017 1:04 pm

Hi Michael,

I am not sure of the link to Bushido and the Martial Arts, but Dogen (like perhaps most Zen Teachers of the past) spoke out of both sides of his no sided mouth. Although there may be something beyond sect and names, Dogen also made quite clear that there was "no Zen" so long as the way being practiced was in line with his vision of how things should be practiced. In other cases, he could be quite judgmental as to what was good Zen and what not. In contrast to his ecumenical side, he also was heard to say in Zanmai-O-Zanmai:

Surely, over the last four or five hundred years only my late Master has been the one to scoop out the Eye of the Buddhas and Ancestors and to sit inside this Eye of the Awakened Ancestors; few have equaled him, even in China.
https://web.stanford.edu/group/scbs/szt ... title.html


There are very many other examples, and so many cases in which Dogen referred to the "Zen school" and criticized what is and what is not.

It is very much like the commonly misunderstood Kalama Sutta in which the Buddha is famously quoted as saying:

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html


A close reading actually shows the Buddha to have been saying something along the lines of "and when you do, you will find that I was the only one who is right."

I actually believe my stance to be a bit more open and ecumenical to Dogen, if not to the Buddha, for I never say my way is the only right way for all people, or that my teacher or my approach is the best. I merely say that it is right and best for me and some people who can benefit therefrom.

Anyway, off topic ...

Gassho, Jundo

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Re: The Myth of Zen Connection to Bushido and Martial Arts

Postby Meido on Sat Mar 04, 2017 3:59 pm

jundo wrote:Reconsidering Zen, Samurai, and the Martial Arts
by Oleg Benesch


Yes, though the reflexive conflation of Zen and martial arts in popular literature has long been debunked. I don't see much in that article that's new, and there have been a number of threads about this both here and at DW over the years.

Zen has certainly impacted Japanese culture as a whole, for example the flowering of cultural arts that was centered within the gozan monasteries. And there were famous martial artists who we know practiced Zen and whose teachings were deeply influenced thereby: Yagyu Munenori (Yagyu Ryu), Musashi Miyamoto (Niten Ichi Ryu), Tsukahara Bokuden (Kashima Shinto Ryu) and Itto Ittosai (Itto Ryu) from the Sengoku period, Tsuji Gettan (Mugai Ryu) in Edo, Yamaoka Tesshu (Muto Ryu) and Katsu Kaishu (known as an expert in sojutsu) among others in Meiji, etc. There were also eminent military leaders/daimyo who practiced Zen deeply, perhaps most famously Hojo Tokimune, Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin who were nyudo, etc.

But in general the influence of Zen Buddhist training methods on Japanese bujutsu has been vastly overstated. There are notable exceptions (such as those mentioned above), but most bujutsu ryuha did/do not express any overt connection to Zen...and just as often made or make use of Shinto, Mikkyo, or Neo-Confucian concepts, practices and terminology.

~ Meido
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Re: The Myth of Zen Connection to Bushido and Martial Arts

Postby Gregory Wonderwheel on Fri Mar 10, 2017 11:07 pm

Meido wrote:But in general the influence of Zen Buddhist training methods on Japanese bujutsu has been vastly overstated. There are notable exceptions (such as those mentioned above), but most bujutsu ryuha did/do not express any overt connection to Zen...and just as often made or make use of Shinto, Mikkyo, or Neo-Confucian concepts, practices and terminology.

~ Meido

But "Zen" has such a cool ring in the English language that writers of both discourses for university and scripts for films invoke the word when they can get away with it.

_/|\_
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Why you do not understand is because the three carts were provisional for former times, and because the One Vehicle is true for the present time. ~ Zen Master 6th Ancestor Huineng
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Re: The Myth of Zen Connection to Bushido and Martial Arts

Postby Meido on Sat Mar 11, 2017 12:44 am

Gregory Wonderwheel wrote:But "Zen" has such a cool ring in the English language that writers of both discourses for university and scripts for films invoke the word when they can get away with it.


Not to mention marketing departments.

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