Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A good find on Zen and WWII

This link on Warner's blog on various topics has a comment by Harry which links to a bit that really should be kept. It has to do with a Zen teacher, Kodo Sawaki, and his role in World War II. Evidently Brian Victoria has a mistake in some of his scholarship, and the whole link for yourself. These quotes do not - do not in any way exonerate anyone of the horrible things that happened as a result of Japanese imperialism in the war. But I do post them here to illustrate that we should have caution that we might be overly receptive to any and all criticism that might be supported by prejudices. It's easy to say, absent of what's written below, that of course Brian Victoria must be right; the Japanese did horrible things in WWII, Victoria had access to the Japanese historical materials, etc. Victoria's response printed there, instead of admitting a mistake, seems to be moving the goalposts a bit. Of course folks like Sawaki were fervent supporters of the war. But that does not mean that all supporters of the war were bloodthirsty ghouls who supported vivisection and the worst excesses of the Japanese military. So perspective is necessary. Even for Victoria, we should have compassion. It's damned difficult to walk-back from one's labors sometimes.


I would translate that into broken English as something like:

"i went to the russo-japanese war and killed people until i had my fill/enough of it/my stomach was full [hara-ippai, "gorged" - in the German version of "Zen at war", they have an expression that means "we just couldn't get enough of", which is quite wrong, as "hara-ippai" means the point where one has enough], but if you think about it soberly/normally/in peace [heijo], this is a serious matter [taihen]. today the newspaper writes about the extermination of the enemy or how we clean [sosha] them away with machine gun fire. that almost sounds like everyday household cleaning [soji]. they fire their machine gun and call it "cleaning away the remains of the enemy". imagine that would happen in the midst of the ginza: people getting "cleaned" as if you were shooting animals! it would be a serious affair. compared with today the former war was old fashioned [furyu]. We shot only one bullet at a time. That was not so gross like shooting your machine gun as if you were spreading water with a watering can, or throwing big bombs, or poison gas. i also once killed enemies at the battlefield of Baolisi, chasing them into a hole, and i was never punished for it. i even received monthly payments as a veteran [onkyu] after i came back from the war. that means that you do not always get punished for killing a person. it depends on the regulations of the time if you get punished or not. but these regulations are made by men."
[from the 1st edition of sawakis comments on the shodoka, 1940] ...


Read as a whole, Sawaki is not saying that throwing bombs is in itself a perfecly good way of keeping to the Buddhist precepts, so Zen monks should go ahead without hesitating and kill as many as possible, but rather quite oppositely: When people have to go to war and kill people, they should still try to keep the precepts in mind when they throw bombs etc. They shouldn't let themselves allow to be carried away by excitement, as he did when he was in the war. They should stay aware of the contradiction (killing an enemy that you are supposed to identify with) and try to make the best of it, i.e. not killing enemies thoughtlessly ("killing one's fill", as Sawaki has done himself during the Russo-Japanese war), looting, other violence (rape?). When he adds that "even from a military point of view" this makes sense, he does not say that soldiours should keep to the rules only to "ensure victory", as you claim in your e-mail to Dan. In my opinion, he first tells the soldiours to care for the people, and only after that, to back up his claim against criticism, he says that this makes sense "even from a military point of view". This is supported by the following quote that Matsuoka makes (Sawaki saying in 1943):


My English:
"things have a gravitational center. human beings also need to have a gravitational center. if you go to war and kill people but don't seek for something final, something that goes beyond, you are an empty person. people think it is all about winning, about not losing, but the question is: what comes after that? i think only that what comes afterwards is important. and that is the shobogenzo."


Anonymous said...

Reading these kind of posts reminds me of just how technology truly is undeniably integral to our lives in this day and age, and I think it is safe to say that we have passed the point of no return in our relationship with technology.

I don't mean this in a bad way, of course! Ethical concerns aside... I just hope that as technology further innovates, the possibility of transferring our brains onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It's one of the things I really wish I could encounter in my lifetime.

(Posted on Nintendo DS running [url=]R4 SDHC[/url] DS NetBlog)

Anonymous said...

We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.

Università di PISA

Anonymous said...

Nothing is impossible!