Monday, November 13, 2006

Kodo Sawaki

"It is just to punish those who disturb the public order. Whether one kills or does not kill, the precept forbidding killing [is preserved]. It is the precept forbidding killing that wields the sword. It is the precept that throws the bomb."

This is a quote from Kodo Sawaki made (in)famous from Brian Victoria's book Zen at War.
I mentioned it in the last post from Anatman but I thought it should probably be a separate topic. Does anyone know anyhing about the background behind this quote? Comments?

10 Comments:

At November 13, 2006, Blogger Anatman said...

I also came across this quote for the first time today after doing a bit of searching following the discussion on the last post.

It is a disturbing twist on Zen and Buddhism. Reminds me a bit of the Star Wars concepts of "The Force" and "The Dark Side."

Here is a commentary on the topic by Dave Emory:

Victoria identifies Sawaki Kodo (1880-1965), one of the great Soto Zen patriarchs of this century, as an evangelical war proponent. Serving in Russia as a soldier, he happily related how he and his comrades had ‘gorged ourselves on killing people.’ Later, in 1942, he wrote, ‘It is just to punish those who disturb the public order. Whether one kills or does not kill, the precept forbidding killing [is preserved]. It is the precept forbidding killing that wields the sword. It is the precept that throws the bomb.’ The ‘precept throws the bomb?’ This is an astonishing abuse of Zen language. Kodo also advocated, as did other Zen teachers, that if killing is done without thinking, in a state of no-mind or no-self, then the act is a expression of enlightenment. No thinking = No-mind = No-self = No karma. In this bizarre equation, the victims are always left out, as if they are irrelevant. Killing is just an elegant expression of the koan. When Colonel Aizawa Saburo was being tried for murdering another general in 1935, he testified, ‘I was in an absolute sphere, so there was neither affirmation nor negation, neither good nor evil.’ This approach to Zen is ultimately a perverse narcissism or even nihilism. Of course, the obvious question that was never asked - if there is no self, why is there any need to kill?”

Seems to me to be shameful rationalization of despicable acts of violence. "Holy" war.

 
At November 14, 2006, Blogger gniz said...

As I stated in my comments to the last Sawaki poetry post, anyone who is looking objectively and with some experience can see that chasing after those kinds of mental states that he describes will become insane.
The fetishization (is that a word?) of enlightenment states in Buddhism and Eatern mysticism is becoming repellent to me. Thank God.
Luckily, Brad tries to caution against this. But he instead he worships at the shrine of Gudo and their particular brand of zazen.
It should make everyone question, but people would rather chase after fantasies.

g

 
At November 15, 2006, Blogger Dan said...

well i've asked gudo nishijima, brad warner and mike luetchford about this quote. Here's the email Brad sent back

"I believe this quote comes from the book Zen At War by Brian Victoria. I don't have it myself. But looking thru a friend's copy I noticed that some of the quotations from Zen Masters in that book, probably including this one, are from Japanese newspapers published during WWII. It's hard to imagine any publication more likely to rewrite someone to make them seem supportive to the war effort than a WWII era Japanese newspaper. So I don't think this quote is very reliable.
We can't dig Kodo up & ask him if he really said that. But my teacher, Gudo Nishijima, was his student during the war years and he does not recall Kodo Sawaki being supportive of the war at all. He finds such quotations completely unreliable and I'll take his word. I've read other stuff by Sawaki and I doubt he ever said anything like this. "

Gudo said a similar thing, saying he'd never heard him say anything like this in his lectures, that he knew Kodo even during the war and even then he maintained the Buddhist Middle Way.

Mike Luetchford pointed out that the translation may well be dodgy first off and that the wording of it doesn't even make any sense (e.g. how can a precept throw a bomb?)
I'm going to the library tomorrow to find the citations for these quotes that Victoria uses and also hopefully get hold of the original Japanese to see how closely it actually fits to this translation.

 
At November 15, 2006, Blogger oxeye said...

Brad addressed some of this on Feb 10 2006 in: "Brad Warner: Warmonger" but has since removed it.

In part it read; "anyhow, i did a little video taped interview with the man himself (Nishijima) and asked him about that ol' debbil war-monger kodo sawaki. he said that he also has never read the brian victoria books. but he feels that, based on people's emotional"...

Does anyone know if Brad ever released the video or wrote it up?

 
At November 15, 2006, Blogger gniz said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At November 15, 2006, Blogger gniz said...

Mike Doe,

I wrote a post in response to your blog.

Its on my blog at gangstazen.blogspot.com

Its about martial arts and how it relates to spirituality for anyone who's interested.

 
At November 15, 2006, Blogger gniz said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At November 15, 2006, Blogger gniz said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At November 17, 2006, Blogger Justin said...

I don't think that using Zen as a way to avoid responsibility for violence has little to do with one interpretation of Zen or another but is a classic example of Buddhist error - of treating ultimate truths (no good or evil) as conventional truths (ammorality). This might be called 'clinging to emptiness' or to use Jinzang's Tibetan phrase 'losing conduct in the view'. Ironically perhaps, to think in this way is actually dualistic because it depends on a duality between samsara and nirvana.

 
At November 25, 2007, Blogger Kuba said...

The fourteen-year-old boy proved himself to be a highly competent soldier, throwing himself into dangerous situations to save the lives of his fellowman, and so he received many honors and was decorated for distinguished action on the Sino-Japanese front. One day, after being shot in the mouth, Kodo Sawaki was declared dead and flung into a pit for corpses. Seriously wounded and unable to move (the boy was trapped under the weight of thirty-odd corpses above him), he remained under the rotting bodies for several days. Discovered when the bodies were about to be incinerated, Kodo Sawaki was rescued and returned to Japan as a war casualty.

 

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