‘All my life I taught Zen to the people -
Nine and seventy years.
Who he sees not things as they are
Will never know Zen.’
Enni Ben'en (1201-1280)
On my first visit to Japan, in my first temple garden in Kyoto, I passed only one sign. The Way of Seeing. It was the only sign. I had to make my own way. There was nothing to see or do or find, except what I had brought myself. And that was the greatest find of all.
My mind absorbed the calmness; the calmness absorbed my mind. In the silence, and stones and water and air, and shapes and empty space, perfection had been fashioned out of nothing. In the passage of time and the aches of recollection, the transcendental exalting loveliness was sad, and the sadness was lovely. This floating world, shadowed by my own mortality, cut my soul, and I could taste my own blood.
Japan would not be Japan without Zen. The desperate Japanese pursuit of total predictive control may have come off the antithetical austere branches of their Buddhism. The need to know, despite the mysterious Yugen not knowing that is Buddha; the need for perfection despite the imperfect Wabi-sabi impermanence of sakura cherry blossoms, the minor and the hidden and the tentative and the ephemeral and the subtle and the evanescent Mono no aware pathos of things; the need for noisy violent video games despite the simple, subtle, unobtrusive beauty of Shibui; the hard vulgarity of Japanese porn despite the heartbreaker elegance of Miyabi; the full feverish acquisitiveness of Japanese consumer society despite the infinity and nothingness of the Ensou void; the determinism of Japanese politics corporate culture despite the Shoganai acceptance of fate. It can't be helped.
Logic and beauty are different in Japan, because of Zen. Logic is something invented in the West to allow Westerners to win discussions. Bean sauce that smells of bean sauce is no good. The Japanese sense of beauty is dominated by a love of irregularity rather than symmetry, impermanence rather than eternity, and simplicity rather than the ornate.
Zen also dog-eared and tortured the samurai spirit. There is surely nothing other than the single purpose of the present moment. A man's whole life is a succession of moment after moment. There will be nothing else to do, and nothing else to pursue. Live being true to the single purpose of the moment… One should make his decisions within the space of seven breaths. It is a matter of being determined and having the spirit to break right through to the other side… If you keep your sword drawn and wield it about then no one will dare approach you and you will have no allies. But if you never draw it, it will dull and rust and people will assume that you are feeble… If one is overly strict, his subordinates will become untrustworthy. If he over-trusts, his subordinates will become unruly.