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In view of the challenge this book has posed for the Western Buddhist community, it was surprising to find but one review for it - on Amazon. com. Published ten years ago (Hawaii Uni Press) the material edited by James Heisig and John C. Maraldo puts Zen in a decidedly critical spotlight, effectively tracing the historical precedents linking Zen Buddhism, the State, Nationalism and - Militarism. Read alongside Daizen Victoria's 'Zen at War/Zen to Senso,' (Weatherhill, 1997), it is obvious that we need to review the ethical bases of Zen and face the fact that it has been put to some distinctly 'un-buddhist' uses. Hence, the rather derisory title -'Rude Awakenings.
While such issues have elicited concern in the Western Buddhist community, the ties between Zen and the martial arts hardly raise an eyebrow in other quarters and even seem to bestow a 'normative' perspective on things. After all, Zen became the adopted religion of the Samurai, the Japanese warrior caste. It is often said that true exponents of Budo see their arts as a way of sublimating aggression. That is probably true of the best sort of Budo practitioners and it would be mean spirited to see the traditional samurai as blood thirsty brigands, who like violence for its own sake. Encyclopaedia Brittanica - surely an objective source, has described the Samurai as one of the most efficient fighting forces known to history, for the most part displaying high mindedness and a strong sense of discipline.
Nevertheless, whatever it meant in Japan's feudal past, the saying 'Zen ken ichinyo' - or that 'The way of Zen and the way of the sword - are the same' has been grossly exploited in the context of modern state power - and indeed, used as a cover to glorify sheer brutality.Read more ›
This is a well-done study of an important question, the legacy of Zen and its political colorations, most tragically during the World War era of this century, that in the process provokes a deeper series of questions about religion, the histories of such, and their relations to social states. If Zen wishes us to escape time then the times and places to do this might end by preventing this, being timebound, reaching nowhere, as a destination. In the end some must have slipped away, but the form of the religion succumbs to history, with the ambiguous or sad ending here described. The Chinese-Japanese legacy of Buddhism is a brilliant creation, unique beyond anything in the more ideological monotheistic religions, but in the end the preemption of Zen by the Nationalist state during the twentieth century requires careful study, not only by historians, but by students of religion. For there is a point after which religions, intended to help people, cease to help them. As the book details the control of Zen by the state began very early, and as with the Constantinian version of Christianity we have an ambiguous cultural entity, distancing itself from the forest renunciations of the original Buddhism. The studies in this book are invaluable food for thought, and very scholarly snapshots, with an interesting essay on Daisetz Suzuki, the Zen missionary to America. He seems to have sensed the whole problem, and in his detachment slipped away with the treasure to the land of the disorderly and too zany Americans, the next to try their luck with this religion. It may not be meditation to read this book, but it is worth reading anyway, for it is clear that the history of a religion is not a spiritual reality. One hitchhikes on the form, to slip away in the end... There is of course a dialectical antithesis: Buddhism, beginning in a forest, became in short order the Indian State...How so? Perhaps the state might need protection from this other state...
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