Moss-covered Monk

Moss-covered Monk


Thursday, November 15, 2012

A History of Samurai and Zen (13)


In the next place we have to strive to be the master of our bodies. With
most of the unenlightened, body holds absolute control over Self. Every
order of the former has to be faithfully obeyed by the latter. Even if Self
revolts against the tyranny of body, it is easily trampled down under the
brutal hoofs of bodily passion. For example, Self wants to be temperate for
the sake of health, and would fain pass by the resort for drinking, but body
would force Self into it. Self at times lays down a strict dietetic rule for
himself, but body would threaten Self to act against both the letter and spirit
of the rule. Now Self aspires to get on a higher place among sages, but body
pulls Self down to the pavement of masses. Now Self proposes to give
some money to the poor, but body closes the purse tightly. Now Self
admires divine beauty, but body compels him to prefer sensuality. Again,
Self likes spiritual liberty, but body confines him in its dungeons.

Therefore, to got enlightened, we must establish the authority of Self over
the whole body. We must use our bodies as we use our clothes in order to
accomplish our noble purposes. Let us command body not to shudder under
a cold shower bath in inclement weather, not to be nervous from sleepless
nights, not to be sick with any sort of food, not to groan under a surgeon's
knife, not to dry even if we stand a whole day in the midsummer sun, not to
break down under any form of disease, not to be excited in the thick of
battlefield, in brief, we have to control our body as we will.

Sit in a quiet place and meditate in imagination that body is no more
bondage to you, that it is your machine for your work of life, that you are
not flesh, that you are the governor of it, that you can use it at pleasure, and
that it always obeys your order faithfully. Imagine body as separated from
you. When it cries out, stop it instantly, as a mother does her baby. When it
disobeys you, correct it by discipline, as a master does his pupil. When it is
wanton, tame it down, as a horse breaker does his wild horse. When it is
sick, prescribe to it, as a doctor does to his patient. Imagine that you are not
a bit injured, even if it streams blood; that you are entirely safe, even if it is
drowned in water or burned by fire.

EShun, a pupil and sister of Ryoan, a famous Japanese master, burned
herself calmly sitting crosslegged on a pile of firewood which consumed
her. She attained to the complete mastery of her body. Socrates' self was
never poisoned, even if his person was destroyed by the venom he took.
Abraham Lincoln himself stood unharmed, even if his body was laid low by
the assassin. Masashige was quite safe, even if his body was hewed by the
traitors' swords. Those martyrs that sang at the stake to the praise of God
could never be burned, even if their bodies were reduced to ashes, nor those
seekers after truth who were killed by ignorance and superstition. Is it not a
great pity to see a man endowed with divine spirit and power easily upset
by a bit of headache, or crying as a child under a surgeon's knife, or apt to
give up the ghost at the coming of little danger, or trembling through a little
cold, or easily laid low by a bit of indisposition, or yielding to trivial

It is no easy matter to be the dictator of body. It is not a matter of theory,
but of practice. You must train your body that you may enable it to bear any
sort of suffering, and to stand unflinched in the face of hardship. It is for
this that Sorai (Ogiu) laid himself on a sheet of straw mat spread on the
ground in the coldest nights of winter, or was used to go up and down the
roof of his house, having himself clad in heavy armour. It is for this that
ancient Japanese soldiers led extremely simple lives, and that they often
held the meeting of perseverance, in which they exposed themselves to the
coldest weather in winter or to the hottest weather in summer. It is for this
that Katsu Awa practised fencing in the middle of night in a deep forest.
Kisaburo, although he was a mere outlaw, having his left arm half cut at the
elbow in a quarrel, ordered his servant to cut it off with a saw, and during
the operation he could calmly sit talking and laughing with his friends.
Hikokuro (Takayama), a Japanese loyalist of note, one evening happened to
come to a bridge where two robbers were lying in wait for him. They lay
fully stretching themselves, each with his head in the middle of the bridge,
that he might not pass across it without touching them. Hikokuro was not
excited nor disheartened, but calmly approached the vagabonds and passed
the bridge, treading upon their heads, which act so frightened them that they
took to their heels without doing any harm to him.

The history of Zen is full of the anecdotes that show Zen priests were the
lords of their bodies. Here we quote a single example by way of illustration:
Ta Hwui (Daiye), once having had a boil on his hip, sent for a doctor, who
told him that it was fatal, that he must not sit in Meditation as usual. Then
Ta Hwui said to the physician: " I must sit in Meditation with all my might
during my remaining days, for if your diagnosis be not mistaken, I shall die
before long." He sat day and night in constant Meditation, quite forgetful of
his boil, which was broken and gone by itself.

~Kaiten Nukariya