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DATE : 14-11-27 12:36
Zen and the Martial Arts
 WRITER : usmai
HIT : 1,005  
The very mention of Zen or the Oriental Martial Arts in Western circles prompts visions of the mystical and exotic; the deep, veiled and unknown world of strange bald aescetics who can arise from a peaceful trance to destroy those with evil intent in a blinding flash of activity. In fact these are the roots of both Zen and the Oriental Martial Arts; but what of their development, what of the present-day state of affairs? What have the Shaolin monks of times past to do with full-contact Karate and "martial-arts movies depicting rampant violence? To answer these questions we must begin with the roots of Zen in India, follow it and the martial arts through the Orient, and finally look at the movement of the martial arts and Zen to the West, and the changes resulting from that move.

What we refer to as "Buddhism can be said to have originated from the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama in Northern India during the fifth century B.C.1 The elder Guatama had been told by a sage that his son would leave to become a great teacher. Wishing to keep his son at home Siddhartha's father surrounded him from birth with pleasure and goodness within the walls of their estate. When Siddhartha became a young man he began to look and venture beyond the walls. He saw there poverty disease, old age, and death. Stunned by these realizations of the nature of the human condition he renounced trivial pleasures and set out to seek enlightenment to the lasting truths of the universe.

Siddhartha studied under several teachers and remained still unsatisfied with the extent of his understanding. It was then that he began to undergo severe austerities, denying the body even food, water, and rest, in a total renunciation of the world. In this way he sought to free his spirit. Finally he was met by a vision telling him that this was not the final way either, and that he should take sustenance to give himself strength. It so happened at this time that a woman came to bring her yearly offering to the spirit of the Bodhi tree that Siddhartha sat under. Taking him for the spirit she gave him rice and yoghurt to eat. That evening the state of man, past, present and future, was revealed and in his understanding of universal law Siddhartha Guatama became enlightened, one with all that is, Buddha.

Buddha then began to teach those with whom he came in contact. He taught the harmony of all that is and the artificiality of separations between self and others, dark and light, good and evil. Ultimately, however words are misunderstood, serving only to point in a given direction not to form a true understanding. One day

Buddha was brought a golden flower as a gift. In response he gave his flower sermon, which consisted merely of holding up the flower and gazing upon it. Through this one of his disciples realized enlightenment. Here it is seen that enlightenment may be attained independently of words and teachings. This flower sermon and the idea of enlightenment without dogma were much later to form the basis for Zen.

Aside from the engmatic flower sermon, what were the important teachings of the Buddha? Also, what are the goals of the Buddhist way of life? The goals of the Buddhist are simple; to bring ones own life into harmony with all that is, and to be "re-awakened or "enlightened to the nature of this "all through realizing "oneness with it.2 This universal law is known as Dharma and all suffering stems from ignorance of it (avidya). Thus people go through their lives caught up in the illusions of the world, understanding neither the consequences of their actions nor the reasons for their suffering. Wise men eventually realize that none of the wealth, fame, power or acclaim that they have acquired actually gives inner joy and peace of mind. This is a realization of the first of four noble truths, namely that life is suffering. Even though all that may be wished for is obtained, suffering is not eliminated. The second noble truth is that "Tauha or desire, is the cause of this suffering. The third noble truth is that the release from suffering requires the overcoming of desire. The fourth noble truth deals with the way to overcoming this desire, the "eightfold path.

The "eightfold path consists of: Right Aspiration, or the desire to better the state of existence of one's self and others; Right Speech, being positive, honest comforting and caring in what you say; Right Behavior, not taking selfish action, but exerting energy to do that which you believe is good for all; Right Livelihood, working at something which is good for humanity and uses your talents well; Right Effort, or not exerting effort in pursuit of worthless or harmful goals; Right Mindfulness, which is to say thinking on that which is good; and finally, Right Absorption, which is to be actively and wholly caught up and involved in a way of life filled with love and good works.

After Buddha passed on, time and distance began to separate his followers into different schools of thought. The two major separations here are the Hinayana or Theranada, meaning "Lesser Vehicle, and the Mahayana, or "Greater Vehicle. These two major schools of thought differ in their approach towards the relief of suffering and realization of enlightenment. The Hinayana school, which arose in Tibet and spread to Ceylon, Burma and Thailand holds that man is an individual and that all progress which he makes must be through his own doing. Man must develop wisdom above all, and this wisdom will carry him to his goal. Thus this is initially a more individualistic form of the Buddhist teachings, whose first concern is setting one's self straight. The Mahayana is called the "greater vehicle because it has more focus on the whole of humanity. Man's destiny is inextricably meshed with that of those around him. The sun shines on the just and the unjust. In such case grace is a fact and love is the most powerful and all-pervasive force in the world, tying the whole of mankind together. The feeling here is that what is good for one is ultimately good for all, and vice-versa.

For the Theravadan the ideal is the Arhat, or perfected disciple, who strikes out on his love path for Nirvana and, with prodigious concentration, makes his way unswervingly toward that pinpointed goal. The Mahayana school has another ideal, the Boddhisattva, who having obtained enlightenment refused to enter Nirvana, so as to be able to serve his fellow men. Therefore it can be seen that whereas Hinayana Buddhism conceives the Buddha as one man and stresses individual enlightenment, Mahayana emphasizes compassion for all living things without decreasing individual enlightenment and freedom from illusion.

It may be seen then that the actual difference is not great here, merely the focus. No man obtains enlightenment alone, without guidance or teachers. Also once enlightenment has been obtained there is only one path to tread whether you rose through the Hinayana or the Mahayana school. Obviously someone has remained to instruct others in the Hinayana school. Equally obviously, one cannot very well help others until one has tended to some of one's own cares, worries and ailments, even in the Mahayana school. Still, for those beginning the path it is easy to see differences and overlook similarities.

The Buddhist view of the self in relation to the physical universe is one of change and flow where nothing is constant. All that exists is in a state of flux with the common characteristics being momentariness, discreteness, grouping and regrouping. The current expression of reality is a temporary conglomeration of many independently flowing and changing currents of existence. Each of these currents affects and is affected by all others. The life of a bank executive in New York is inextricably

tied to the existence of a stray dog in New Delhi. The universe functions not so much as many unrelated organisms, but as one great, constantly changing and developing entity. In this flux are the expressions of self, each being conglomerations of physical bodies shaped by the nature of the body and the flows of events and people that it has been directed by. There are flows within the self related to bodily processes such as hearing, sight, and touch, biological needs and drives, physiological and mental capabilities, and reactions to the environment. Ml of these flows are the physical factors of consciousness rooted in the body and are referred to as the Scandas.

Higher levels of consciousness are the Manas and the Maya. The Manas consciousness is the first of the spiritual levels of consciousness. It is the awareness of self as existing independently of the body, mind and senses. Beyond this are the relative and absolute Maya levels. The relative Maya level is a bridge between the absolute and the self. It is the connection between universal law on the Karmic plane and the self. It is the connection between universal law on the Karmic plane and the self. Relative Maya can be seen as the feeling of self independent of momentary events. A person acting positively in life will be peaceful and fulfilled even when events on the physical plane are momentarily negative and discouraging. Relative Maya consciousness then is one's spiritual state the root of real happiness or unhappiness.

Absolute Maya consciousness is "formless self, the consciousness which is not expressed directly in individual forms but independently. This is the "universal consciousness of which the psychologist Jung wrote, the consciousness which is common to all consciousnesses, tying them together in the universal law of cause and effect, Karma. It is the reason that every flow affects every other flow, the sea and sky where all of the rivers end and originate. Just as the universe is one organism, this is its consciousness. It is the unerring balance of life which returns measure for measure that which the individual expressions of consciousness produce. To produce good for others on the physical plane is to be at peace in the Relative Maya because of the fair measure of the Absolute Maya. Selfish action on the individual plane results in depletion in the Relative Maya and a feeling of uneasy emptiness the ultimate reward of desire.

The flux between one "self' and other selves through the Absolute Maya and on the physical plane produces constant changes in the Relative Maya state of being of the selves. A good deed here, a favor received there all play their part in the wheel of life. There are always spiritual debits and credits. Dharma is the debt that we owe for all that we have received on the physical plane, our debt to society. As expressed in Christian terms "Of whom much is given, much shall be required. To die with debits and credits in one's account is to be unfinished, requiring another turn of the wheel of rebirth and death. The only release from the cycle of death and rebirth is through realization of the nature of existence, and using this to balance the accounts once and for all. Once the debts have been paid there is no need for the individual self and oneness with Absolute Maya, merging with the universal consciousness can finally be achieved.

Enlightenment, or the realization of the nature of existence is a prerequisite to release from the suffering of existence. Intellectual grasp of concepts is insufficient because the intellect is a product of the physical world. The ultimate achievement of inkllect is to turn itself off for it can come no closer to spiritual reality of this. When the physical existence is "turned off' only the spiritual side of self fills consciousness. This state is called "Satori in Zen. Satori then is release from the lowest (physical) levels of self. Death is also a release from the physical levels of self, but the release of death is no immediate way to return to those levels and begin to set the accounts straight. Satori helps to fuse the physical more closely with the spiritual, allowing physical deeds in life to be in harmony with spiritual needs. This realization is still not enough because it must be used to set straight one's spiritual account. The Buddha used his satori under the bodhi tree to pay off his debts by leading others down the path to enlightenment, from where they could also begin to work toward Nirvana, or release from painful individual existence.

The fact that the highest attainment of the intellect is the action of turning itself off to the physical world is the root of Zen.6 The use of words and teachings can tie the intellect more and more closely into physical reality as it builds a physical model of spiritual existence without the actual understanding, which comes only from union. This attainment of an intellectual model can satisfy the ego to a degree that its appetite for true "Satori is lessened. Zen seeks to avoid this by avoiding written teachings and dogmas. Only satori matters. Words are used only to confound the intellect rather than to try to educate it. The ultimate expression of intellect is in non-existence so it makes more sense to confound it into a state where it gives up or turns off, than it does to constantly feed it new information to correlate and digest. The latter method can make an intellect with a "firm grasp on reality which refuses to turn off to the world and allow spiritual experience of the self. The Zen master does this with his disciples by blocking each mental path the disciple takes with a wall, and destroying each mental model of spirituality until the only direction left to turn has been blocked. Then the intellect may give in to Satori.

The fact that blows to the intellect may need to be severe to get it to release from the physical world is illustrated in two stories.

Whenever Master Gutei was questioned he would just raise one finger. At one time a visitor asked his young attendant what his master taught. The boy also raised one finger. When he heard of this Gutei cut off the boy's finger with a knife. As the boy ran out of the room screaming Gutei called to him. When the boy turned to look at him Gutei raised his finger. The boy's mind was opened to Satori.

Ummon was a Zen master who lived at the end of the T'ang Dynasty and he had to lose one of his legs to experience Satori. He went to visit the teacher Bokju and was rejected three times before finally being allowed to see him. "Who are you? asked the master. "I am Bun-yen, replied Ummon, giving his pre-enlightenment name. When he was allowed to go inside the gate the master grabbed him by the chest and shouted, "Speak! Speak! Ummon hesitated, whereupon the master pushed him out of the gate, saying, "Oh, you good-for-nothing fellow! When the gate was hastily shut one of Ummons legs was caught and broken. At that instant he was released from the physical consciousness into Satori.

A less violent tool for obliteration of the intellect is "Koan. Usually a koan is a question which can have no logical answer. Each feeble attempt by the disciple to answer the question in a logical or even illogical manner is dismissed by the master as "trash or nonsense. These answers tend to be timid and unsure, something that the mind reasons "could be the answer. When Ummon was loudly commanded to speak he was suddenly unsure and tongue tied. Not speaking was a failure to answer this "koan and the master berated him for his failure. This koan was a demand for immediate action, but such an unexpected demand confounds the logical thought processes. Only the spiritual levels of consciousness can bring forth an answer in these cases. The answer will seem like nonsense or totally unrelated to the question to the uninitiated but it is the surety and immediacy, the unequivocal nature of it that attests to the spiritual origin of it.8 Another koan along these same lines was expressed by a Japanese master who would walk into the meeting hall and announce to his students "Speak and you will receive 20 blows upon the head, fail to speak and you will receive the same 20 blows. Demands like this drive the logical processes to their extremes in order to avoid pain and damage to the body, yet the road is closed. There is no answer that logic can possibly provide. Ultimately the intellect gives up in exhaustion and surrenders its dominance to the spiritual self.

More intellectual koans which guide the thinker in the right direction but also are unanswerable without a leap of realization are common. An example comes from the sixth Zen patriarch. "When your mind is not dwelling on the dualism of good and evil, what is your original face before you were born? It is clear that this question seeks to drive the disciple from the dualistic world of self and not-self to a realization of the unity of the Maya or "universal unconscious and the existence without form or body of the Manas. However, an answer to this question would be obviously fake if it did not actually arise from these levels of consciousness. Anything arising from these spiritual levels would carry and undeniable air of authority.

In fact the first koan was Buddha's flower sermon in which he held up the single golden flower. The action was a puzzle which demanded an answer that intellect could not derive. It demanded satori and nothing else.

The other side of Zen training is Zazen or sitting meditation. It seek s release from the cluttering flow of words and images constantly produced by the brain, but in the opposite manner from Koan. Where Koan agitates and exhausts the brain until it gives up in frustration, Zazen seeks to calm and quiet it until, with the leaving of the last trace of thought, awareness of the physical world passes away, and only spiritual nature is left.

In this exercise it is important to have a good posture, not too relaxed or sleep may come, and not tense for muscle fatigue and soreness will become an undeniable distraction. Usually the lotus position, sitting with the legs crossed into the lap at the ankles, back straight and hands in lap, is chosen. In this position the energy of the body is contained within itself and awareness can focus inwardly. The body is relaxed, yet not undisciplined, and the mind is alert, yet peaceful and quiet.

Usually a "mantra or meditation word is given to concentrate on. "Mu~~ is common in Japan; "Om has been popular in the West. This mantra has no meaning of its own but it serves to focus the entire consciousness. Once the entire consciousness has become focused on this one meaningless word that word must also be discarded. When that word is discarded, the world in its entirety has been removed from consciousness. Once again only the spiritual self remains and the physical self has been quieted,.

Through the use of koan and Zazen the physical, intellectual mind is taught to defer to the spiritual self both in despair and in peace, the two extremes of mental existence. When this has been achieved it is possible to live through the entire spectrum of mental excitement and arousal and yet have the spirit guiding the self at all times. This is the fusion of body and spirit in its complete state. From this time on the practice of Zen is expressed in the living of everyday life. When energy is required the body's full energy is given without reservation or distraction. When thought and concentration are necessary, the brain works unhindered by a background of worries, cares and distractions. Action is immediate. Decision is no longer a laborous intellectual process. Decision is fitting in with the flow of the spiritual self; it is thoughtless. Ultimately every action is an expression of the purity and beauty of existence. Every task is completed with loving care. Energy flows through the self unhindered to do its work in the physical world. The body is no longer in any way a container of the soul, but a dispenser.

Having now some grasp of the workings and manifestations of Zen, we may question, "What has Zen to do with the violence extant in the martial arts? "How can the roots of Zen and the roots of the martial arts be the same when the two seem so opposite? The simple answer is that in situations where life hangs in the balance or violence may be done, only the spiritual self is the perfect guide. The martial arts train the body to be an appropriate vehicle for the perfect guide. Ultimately life is preserved, not destroyed, and violence averted, not enacted, by the true martial artist. A revered Japanese teacher of swordsmanship told his pupil, "You have mastered the utmost of your art, now my instruction must give way to Zen learning. '0 This is the same as with any endeavor of life. Once the physical manifestations have been learned perfection can only come through guidance by the spirit.

Of course marital arts in one form or another have existed since time immemorial, at least in the sense that there have been fighting techniques developed by skilled fighters and passed on to others. It is sure that many of the participants in ancient battles had skilled training in the use of weapons and in hand to hand combat. All of this concerns training of the vehicle, the body, to make it strong and practiced in fighting skills. However, this physical training is not enough because the object of the martial artist is to minimize harm done, first to himself and those innocent and then to assailants as well. It can be readily seen that indiscriminate use of fighting skills will make enemies and ultimately lead to retribution. Even the most skilled and powerful body is vulnerable to a planned attack. For this reason a code of conduct must be taught side by side with fighting skills. This differentiates a gentleman from a street brawler. On an intellectual level this is the martial arts discipline, techniques for fighting and a code of conduct and responsibility to keep the practitioner out of trouble.

Beyond this is the spiritual aspect of martial arts. Merely following a set of rules and regulations may keep one out of trouble but does it lead to advancement in wisdom, happiness or in increased well-being of self and others? To achieve these goals in the framework of martial arts requires spiritual awareness, as in any walk of life. On a simple intellectual plane, as in codes of martial conduct it is acceptable to take the life of an attacker who attempts to take your life, but there is certainly no merit or good in this action. On the other hand to spare the life of an assailant, perhaps a man merely enraged, is to save something that is precious and of divine origin. If there is merit or good, it is in this act. Ultimately, to speak peacefully, with consideration, and to calm a troubled man is the perfection of martial arts because life has been saved, an enemy destroyed and a friend made. In the words of Jesus "Return not evil for evil, rather return good for evil. To endeavor to spread peace is to bring peace into one's own life, and to know wisdom.

The man to whom this fusion of spirituality and fighting arts is usually attributed is Bodhidharma, an Indian monk who journeyed to China around 480 A.D. Bodhidharma was the twenty-eighth Buddhist patriarch in the Mahayana sect and the first Ch'an patriarch. Ch'an is the Chinese expression of the Indian word "dhyana which refers to yogic concentration, this was later translated to Korean "Son and Japanese, where it is expressed "Zen. So we see that Bodhidarma, "Daruma Daiichi in Japanese, was the first Zen patriarch. He brought with him to China a concentration on the essence of enlightenment, eschewing the scholarly preoccupation with learning and translating sutras which he found in China. As people are wont to do, he found that the Chinese were caught up in the verbal manifestations of Buddhism and were missing the deeper goal, enlightenment.

Initially it was difficult for Bodhidharma to express his point to the Chinese. After a brief stay in Southern China he journeyed to Honan Province in Northern China, where the Shaolin monastery had already been established. The monks there were carrying out the work of translating as many Indian sutras as possible into Chinese. This was a huge task and much time, effort, and expense had been devoted to it. Naturally the head monk at the temple was hesitant to allow this strange Indian, so outspoken against book-learning, to enter and change the accepted process of things. As a result Bodhidharma was instructed to stay outside of the temple. He found himself a cave nearby and proceded to sit in meditation and contemplation for a period of nine years. One story has it that at the end of this time the head monk came to visit and saw that the concentration of the patriarchs energy had bored a gaping hole in the wall where his eyes had rested. At any rate he was accepted as the first Ch'an master.

Upon entering the monastery this master of discipline and concentration found that the monks were constantly tired and that their weak,flaccid bodies were unable to sustain the prolonged mental austerity which he knew would be required to bring them to enlightenment. Using his knowledge of Indian fighting techniques and lessons he had learned from nature on his long journey he began to teach them forms of exercise patterned after these techniques.' These forms were more than merely bodily exercise, rather they were also a discipline to center the mind and consciousness in the body and integrate the "two into a whole. Of course there was a plainly practical side to this training as well since there were roving bands of brigands and ruffians about. Soon the monks developed such a reputation for fighting prowess that they were no longer attacked. Throughout history this union of physical and spiritual concentration was to prove an important factor, the dividing line between an excellent fighter and a master.

The expression of the vital life force which arises from healthy union of body and spirit is "Clii in Chinese or "Ki in Japanese. The use of this essence makes actions performed by the martial artist more than mere physical exertion. The body becomes a conduit for spiritual energy. This Ki is the mysterious force that is often documented in cases where people perform superhuman feats in times of urgent need. The mother who lifts a car to free her child, or the man at the accident who wrenches off a door to free his son from the burning auto, these are both examples of Ki in use. It should be noted that this pure spiritual energy cannot be used with evil intent; its source is not evil but good. The Shaolin temple style which ultimately developed was to emphasize this Ki, as were most subsequent forms of the martial arts.

Ch'an Buddhism as well as forms of the martial arts made their way from Northern China to Korea in the middle to late fifth century A.D. and were well accepted. In time Son was to become the dominant form of Buddhism in Korea, especially during the unification of Korea under Silla rule in eight and ninth centuries. Korea served as a center for integration and reformation of both Ch'an Buddhism and the Chinese martial arts.' ~ It is interesting to note that Tae Kwon Do, thet most popular martial art style in the world today is a combination of the most effective aspects of many of the specialized "hard and "soft forms of fighting found in China.' ~ The essence of Ch'an preserved in Korea is no longer found widely in either China or India. However, it finds its most well-known expression in Japan, as Zen.

Buddhism was first introduced to Japan through gifts of Buddha images and sutras by Korean kings in the late fifth-century A.D. After an initial ambivalence the Japanese court accepted Buddhism and was instrumental in spreading it throughout Japan. Confucian scholars of the day were apparently above travelling abroad to teach "barbarians, so Buddhism alone became associated with the incoming culture and technology of China.

Various sects of Buddhism sprang up in Japan. One of the oldest, and probably the most influential of these was the Tendai sect which flourished in the ninth to eleventh centuries. The center in Mount Hiei was an important gathering place for those eminent in thought, art, scholarship and devotion and in its heyday housed 30,000 monks in 3,000 buildings. Many of the other sects of Buddhism in Japan were started by Tendai monks. Another rival school of the same period was the Shingon which included in its practices mantras, initiations, ritual gestures, mandalas and contemplations. Jodo, the "Pure Land Sect was founded in the late twelfti century and emphasized the family as the center of religious life, with faith rathe than complete personal understanding as the path to enlightenment. There was saying in Japan: "The Tendai is for the royal family, the Shingon for the nobiit, Jodo for the mashes and Zen for the Samurai.

The reasons that Zen became the dominant form of Buddhism for the warri class of Japan is found not only in the historical roots of Zen in the Shad Monastery but in the essence of Zen as well. Zen stresses discipline and an acu awareness of the present, without worries as to the future or regrets of the pa:

In endless present there is no great distinction between life and death only action the present. In this undisturbed state there is peace, when there is disturbance means immediate action.' ~ One Samurai, Kirsunoki Masahige (1294-1336) ~ about to meet the overwhelming army of Ashikaga Takauji (1305-1358). He ~ disturbed about the probable outcome of the battle and asked a Zen mast "When a man is at the parting of the ways between life and death, how should behave? The master replied, "Cut off your dualism and let one sword stand seren by itself against the sky.' 6 This command to awareness without the unreality intellectual worry was not just beneficial, but necessary to the Samurai whose ii could be called for at any instant. The act of worry would do nothing but insure that the warrior would be unprepared should he be attacked. To worry about death was to insure its hastening.

Through such trial by fire Zen and the martial arts have reached us today in the West. We see the public notice taken of the martial arts and their often crude reduction to glorified brawling. We wonder if this corruption will be the end of higher goals and aspirations. Do people think that this is the only meaning of martial arts? But this has always been the way with something new. The obvious physical attributes are the first thing noticed. The Japanese rulers first thought that Buddhism would bring them wealth. They misunderstood, but it was an important beginning for the transmission of Buddhism. It is just as sure that those introduced to the martial arts have always been first impressed by prowess and have later come to perceive and appreciate the deeper meaning and benefits of the physical meditation of martial arts practice. Just as Zen was purified and imbued with new life at each transmission, losing its excessive cultural trappings, it is in the beginning of. a new phase, a new synthesis. Zen is coming to the Christian West and many are seeing conflict and contradiction. But how much is really there? Surely truth cannot be in conflict with truth. This meeting may serve to shake some of the acquired dross and ritual from both paths, prompting a reassessment and return to the basic importance of spiritual harmony in life. The spread of martial arts into the West has already prompted self-questioning in many Westerners who have been introduced to it and sensed the deeper undercurrents. As long as there are those who strive for harmony and wisdom there can be no end to the attainment of these goals. As Jesus said, "Seek and ye shall find; ask and it shall be given unto you.

This article was authored by Dr. Daeshil Kim, and Co-authored by John Day. It was presented as a lecture in Philosophy of Martial Arts Sports, a course at the University of Texas at Austin.