Spitfire List Web site and blog of anti-fascist researcher and radio personality Dave Emory.

For The Record  

FTR #553 The First Refuge of a Scoundrel, Part II

MP3 Side 1 | Side 2

See also FTR #430 The First Refuge of a Scoundrel, Part I Sum­ma­ry
Lis­ten to FTR #430
MP3 Side 1 | Side 2

Intro­duc­tion: Sup­ple­ment­ing FTRs 547, 548 (about links between fas­cism and Tibetan Bud­dhism), this pro­gram sets forth the long-stand­ing rela­tion­ship between cer­tain schools of Japan­ese Zen Bud­dhism and mil­i­tarism, fas­cism and impe­ri­al­ism. Per­vert­ing some of the philo­soph­i­cal conun­drums inher­ent in the Zen dis­ci­pline, numer­ous mas­ters have used those per­ver­sions as ratio­nal­iza­tions for sup­port­ing Japan­ese impe­ri­al­ism and con­quest. Access­ing Josh Baran’s elo­quent, insight­ful review of Bri­an Vic­to­ri­a’s Zen at War, the broad­cast high­lights the mil­i­tarist and fas­cist sen­ti­ments and alliances of a num­ber of the most high­ly regard­ed Zen prac­ti­tion­ers, includ­ing Shaku Soen, the men­tor of D.T. Suzu­ki. Suzu­ki him­self engaged in ratio­nal­iza­tions that jus­ti­fied slaugh­ter. The philo­soph­i­cal and intel­lec­tu­al gym­nas­tics that enable some Zen mas­ters to sup­port fas­cism and bru­tal­i­ty are not unlike some of the atti­tudes and con­cepts used by some New Age gurus to jus­ti­fy and ratio­nal­ize evil. It is impor­tant to note that some Zen schools sup­port­ed Japan­ese mil­i­tarism cen­turies before the advent of fas­cism in that coun­try.

Pro­gram High­lights Include: Dis­cus­sion of the Rape of Nanking—an atroc­i­ty ratio­nal­ized as jus­ti­fi­able by the fas­cist Zen prac­ti­tion­ers; reluc­tance on the part of some cur­rent Zen prac­ti­tion­ers to face the lega­cy of Zen’s col­lab­o­ra­tion with fas­cism; Zen mas­ter Daiun Sogaku Hara­da Roshi’s sup­port for Japan­ese fas­cism and con­quest; the post World War II activ­i­ties of Yasu­tani Roshi—a Zen prac­ti­tion­er who was very active on behalf Japan­ese fas­cism and reac­tion; the deter­mi­na­tion on behalf of some Zen prac­ti­tion­ers to acknowl­edge Zen’s his­tor­i­cal col­lab­o­ra­tion with fas­cism and mil­i­tarism in order to purge that ten­den­cy from the dis­ci­pline.

1. Begin­ning pre­sen­ta­tion of the pro­gram’s foun­da­tion, the broad­cast notes that “Holy Wars” are usu­al­ly asso­ci­at­ed with West­ern reli­gions in most peo­ples’ minds. As this pro­gram demon­strates, the cor­rup­tion of reli­gion to jus­ti­fy exter­mi­na­tion exists in Asian cul­tures. Zen Bud­dhism has been cor­rupt­ed by—among others—the Japan­ese to jus­ti­fy mil­i­tarism, impe­ri­al­ism and fas­cism. In par­tic­u­lar, many promi­nent Zen mas­ters lent their philo­soph­i­cal sup­port to Japan’s war of con­quest in World War II, as did many of the Zen schools and monas­ter­ies. Note that both the author of Zen at War as well as Josh Baran—the author of this book review—are prac­ti­tion­ers them­selves!

“Think of ‘holy wars’ and west­ern reli­gions come to mind. The God of Exo­dus orders the exter­mi­na­tion of the Caananites, instruct­ing his cho­sen peo­ple to ‘show them no pity’. The com­mand­ment ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’ did not apply to slay­ing Gen­tiles. In 1095, Pope Urban II ordered cru­saders to Jerusalem to ‘kill the ene­mies of God.’ In two days, Chris­t­ian sol­diers slaugh­tered 40,000 Mus­lims who were mere­ly non-human ‘filth’. ‘Won­der­ful sights,’ one cru­sad­er report­ed. ‘Piles of heads, hands, and feet. It was a just and splen­did judg­ment of God that this place should be filled with the blood of unbe­liev­ers.’ And even now, Islam­ic ter­ror­ists pro­claim ‘God is Great’ as bombs explode in the Mid­dle East. On the oth­er hand, Bud­dhism has always been por­trayed as the reli­gion of peace. ‘There has nev­er been a Bud­dhist war,’ I’ve heard many times over the years. When the Sakya king­dom was threat­ened with inva­sion, the Bud­dha sat in med­i­ta­tion in the path of the sol­diers, stop­ping the attack. When the Indi­an King Aso­ka con­vert­ed to Bud­dhism, he cur­tailed his mil­i­tary escapades and erect­ed peace pil­lars. . . . Dur­ing the Viet­nam War, Bud­dhist monks set them­selves on fire to protest the fight­ing. And now a new study emerges that will rad­i­cal­ly shake up this view of Bud­dhism. Zen at War is a coura­geous and exhaus­tive­ly researched book by Bri­an Vic­to­ria, a west­ern Soto Zen priest and instruc­tor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Auck­land. Vic­to­ria reveals the inside sto­ry of the Japan­ese Zen estab­lish­men­t’s ded­i­cat­ed sup­port of the impe­r­i­al war machine from the late 1800’s through World War II. He chron­i­cles in detail how promi­nent Zen lead­ers per­vert­ed the Bud­dhist teach­ing to encour­age blind obe­di­ence, mind­less killing, and total devo­tion to the emper­or. The con­se­quences were cat­a­stroph­ic and the impact can still be felt today.”

(“Zen Holy War?” by Josh Baran; A review of Bri­an Vic­to­ri­a’s Zen at War.)

2. As is the case with Tibetan Bud­dhism, Zen has estab­lished sig­nif­i­cant roots in the Unit­ed States and else­where in the West. For this rea­son, it is impor­tant to achieve a crit­i­cal under­stand­ing of how the teach­ings of Zen and oth­er Bud­dhist schools can be per­vert­ed in order to adapt them to a fas­cist con­struct.

“Most west­ern Bud­dhists will find this account heart- and mind-bog­gling. Enlight­ened Zen Mas­ters sup­port­ing war con­tra­dicts every­thing we know about the Bud­dha’s teach­ing. After World War II, the Japan­ese Zen tra­di­tion, like the nation itself, went into a col­lec­tive amne­sia regard­ing its com­plic­i­ty in the war. So over 50 years of Bud­dhist his­to­ry have been hid­den from out­siders and the Japan­ese them­selves. They are just begin­ning to con­front what hap­pened. Zen at War could not have been writ­ten in Japan. To uncov­er this infor­ma­tion demand­ed a per­son out­side the Japan­ese world of loy­al­ty who could dig deeply and ask uncom­fort­able ques­tions. Vic­to­ria was urged not pub­lish his book. One Chi­nese priest sug­gest­ed that it would slan­der the Dhar­ma. But, as Vic­to­ria right­ly points out, the truth is nev­er slan­der. Zen at War is a major con­tri­bu­tion to under­stand­ing con­tem­po­rary Zen and is a ‘must read’ for all seri­ous Dhar­ma stu­dents. It may be the most sig­nif­i­cant Bud­dhist his­to­ry book of the decade. In fac­ing what Robert Aitken Roshi has called ‘the dark side of our her­itage,’ we are enter­ing some very com­plex ter­rain. First, we need to under­stand the his­tor­i­cal and cul­tur­al con­text. Sec­ond­ly, we need the courage to explore the many uncom­fort­able and dif­fi­cult ques­tions this sto­ry rais­es. It would be easy to dis­miss this as a Japan­ese wartime aber­ra­tion that is long past and would nev­er hap­pen again. That would be a mis­take. There is a lot to learn here that could have pro­found effects as we grow a Bud­dhist Sang­ha in the west.”


3. The per­ver­sion of Zen to serve the inter­ests of chau­vin­ists and impe­ri­al­ists began well before the World War II peri­od.

“As the cen­tu­ry began, Japan was emerg­ing from hun­dreds of years of iso­la­tion. In many ways, this war mind began in 1894 with the Sino-Japan­ese war and the Japan­ese vic­to­ries in Chi­na and Korea and lat­er suc­cess­es in the Rus­so-Japan­ese War (1904–1905). Japan’s nation­al pride inflat­ed and they yearned to be a ‘first-class nation’ — a modem world pow­er that could counter West­ern expan­sion and cre­ate its own empire in the east. This island nation’s iso­la­tion bred an all-per­vad­ing arro­gance. Japan saw itself as divine, racial­ly and cul­tur­al­ly supe­ri­or, ‘flaw­less’ and ‘the only Bud­dhist coun­try’. Non-Japan­ese were called ‘Jama gedo’ — unruly hea­thens. Japan was ‘sav­ing Asia’ by spread­ing the pure Japan­ese, ‘Yam­a­to damashii’ which took on cos­mic pro­por­tions. Japan­ese Zen, espe­cial­ly the Rin­zai lin­eage, had long been linked to the samu­rai cul­ture and bushi­do, the way of the sword. For hun­dreds of years, Zen Mas­ters trained samu­rai war­riors in med­i­ta­tion, teach­ing them enhanced con­cen­tra­tion and will pow­er. Zen helped them face adver­si­ty and death with no hes­i­ta­tion, to be total­ly loy­al and act with­out think­ing. To put it blunt­ly, bushi­do was a spir­i­tu­al way of killing infused with Zen phi­los­o­phy. The sword had always been a Bud­dhist sym­bol for cut­ting through delu­sion, but under bushi­do it was tak­en lit­er­al­ly, evolv­ing from metaphor into con­crete real­i­ty. The sword became an object of ven­er­a­tion and obses­sion, ide­al­ized and wor­shipped. At the begin­ning of the cen­tu­ry, bushi­do was per­me­at­ing Japan, ‘the samuri­aza­tion of the nation.’ Now, it expand­ed from feu­dal vil­lages and local tem­ples to the bat­tle­fields of Manchuria and even­tu­al­ly Guam and Pearl Har­bor.”


4. Pri­or to Japan’s fas­cist peri­od, Shaku Soen was one of the first promi­nent Zen prac­ti­tion­ers to espouse the per­ver­sion of Zen to serve the inter­ests of mil­i­tarism.

“Vic­to­ria pin­points Shaku Soen (1859–1919) as one of the first Zen Mas­ters to enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly embrace war as Zen train­ing. Well-known as D. T. Suzuk­i’s teacher, Soen is revered in the his­to­ry of Bud­dhism in the West as the first Zen teacher to vis­it the Unit­ed States. In the war against Rus­sia, Soen served as a chap­lain in 1904. ‘I wished to inspire,’ Soen lat­er wrote, ‘our valiant sol­diers with the ennobling thoughts of the Bud­dha, so as to enable them to die on the bat­tle­field with con­fi­dence that the task in which they are engaged is great and noble. I wish to con­vince them.... that this war is not a mere slaugh­ter of their fel­low-beings, but that they are com­bat­ing an evil.’ From Soen’s point of view, since every­thing was one essence, war and peace were iden­ti­cal. Every­thing reflect­ed the glo­ry of Bud­dha, includ­ing war. And since the Bud­dha’s main pur­pose was to sub­ju­gate evil, and since the ene­my of Japan was inher­ent­ly evil, war against evil was the essence of Bud­dhism. ‘In the present hos­til­i­ties,’ Soen wrote, ‘into which Japan has entered with great reluc­tance, she pur­sues no ego­tis­tic pur­pose, but seeks the sub­ju­ga­tion of evils hos­tile to civ­i­liza­tion, peace and enlight­en­ment.’ (Japan’s inva­sion of Rus­sia was entire­ly self-serv­ing and hard­ly reluc­tant.). To Soen, war was ’ an inevitable step toward the final real­iza­tion of enlight­en­ment.’ ”


5. Soen embraced the terms ‘holy war’ and ‘just war.’

“Soen used the phras­es ‘just war’ and ‘holy war.’ Japan was engaged in a ‘war of com­pas­sion’ fought by bod­hisatt­va sol­diers against the ene­mies of Bud­dha. As Rin­zai Zen Mas­ter Nan­tem­bo (1839 — 1925) preached, there was ‘no bod­hisatt­va prac­tice supe­ri­or to the com­pas­sion­ate tak­ing of life.’ (Soen con­sid­ered any oppo­si­tion to war as ‘a prod­uct of ego­tism.’) Read­ing these words now, they seem clear exam­ples of dis­turbed reli­gious think­ing. Bud­dhist teach­ings, lan­guage and sym­bols, like any reli­gion, can be per­vert­ed and twist­ed to sup­port nation­al­ism and vio­lence. It is impor­tant to note that Soen is not some fringe crack­pot. He is still almost wor­shipped in Japan as one of the great ‘ful­ly enlight­ened’ Zen Mas­ters of our time. Shodo Hara­da Roshi is a Rin­zai teacher and abbot of Sogen­ji, the largest Zen tem­ple in west­ern Japan, locat­ed in Okaya­ma. He has ded­i­cat­ed his life to pro­vid­ing tra­di­tion­al Zen train­ing to west­ern­ers. Since his zen­do has both men and women, he is con­sid­ered out­side the main­stream. The pres­ence of women dis­qual­i­fies his tem­ple from issu­ing for­mal priest cer­tifi­cates. He is clear­ly not inter­est­ed in being part of the offi­cial sys­tem and will soon be mov­ing his com­mu­ni­ty to Whid­by Island, near Seat­tle.”


6. Around the time of the Rape of Nanking, Seki Seiset­su was a strong advo­cate of the uni­ty of Bud­dhist prin­ci­ples and loy­al­ty to the Japan­ese emperor—a loy­al­ty which man­dat­ed and facil­i­tat­ed the per­pe­tra­tion of atroc­i­ties.

“We are hav­ing bit­ter green tea on a cold March morn­ing dis­cussing Zen and its wartime record. This has been a big issue for him. Harada’s teacher, Yama­da Mumon (1900 — 1988), was the chief abbot of Myosh­in­ji, the great Rin­zai head tem­ple. Mumon’s teacher was Seki Seiset­su (1877 — 1945), a high­ly respect­ed Zen Mas­ter and a war cham­pi­on. Seit­et­su authored a book pro­mot­ing Zen and bushi­do. Just before the fall of Nanking, Seiset­su went on nation­al radio to say: ‘Show­ing the utmost loy­al­ty to the emper­or is iden­ti­cal with engag­ing in the reli­gious prac­tice of Mahayana Bud­dhism. This is because Mahayana Bud­dhism is iden­ti­cal with the law of the sov­er­eign.’ He then called for the ‘exter­mi­na­tion of the red dev­ils’ (Com­mu­nists) both in Japan and in Chi­na. Seiset­su car­ried his mes­sage to the bat­tle­field, vis­it­ing the Chi­nese front in 1938. Through­out the war years, Mumon served his mas­ter, accom­pa­ny­ing him on his mil­i­tary trips and edit­ing his writ­ings. After the war and Seise­tu’s death, Mumon began to express sor­row about his par­tic­i­pa­tion in the war. ‘He told me that noth­ing he could ever do could make up for his com­plic­i­ty,’ Hara­da says. ‘Every­where he went, he talked about peace. He trav­eled to many places where Japan had caused suf­fer­ing — Guam, Bor­neo, the Philip­pines — to talk about peace.’ ”


7. Anoth­er of the promi­nent “Zen fas­cists” was Sawa­ki Kodo. Pay close atten­tion to the ratio­nal­iza­tion process at work here:

“Mumon nev­er crit­i­cized his mas­ter, Seiset­su, but saw his repen­tance as a per­son­al cam­paign for peace. Hara­da, who grew up after the war, sees the entire Zen lin­eage in the shad­ow of this betray­al of basic Bud­dhist prin­ci­ples. He agrees that Zen’s war com­plic­i­ty must thor­ough­ly explored or we will have learned noth­ing and the root caus­es will reassert them­selves. He is direct and hon­est. Although he wants to explain the his­tor­i­cal con­text, he makes no excus­es for what hap­pened. He feels that the head tem­ples must take the lead in this, but I can tell by the tone of his voice, that he real­ly does­n’t think this will ever hap­pen. Over and over he says, ‘this is a big prob­lem, a big prob­lem.’ 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?”


8. “Not­ed D.T. Suzuk­i’s teach­ings embod­ied the views of his men­tor, the Zen teacher Soen (men­tioned above). Bri­an Vic­to­ria and Josh Baran note the influ­ence of Zen-like phi­los­o­phy on the devel­op­ment of the Kamikaze sui­cide pilots’ psy­che. Note, also, that Suzuk­i’s teach­ings were relat­ed by the Japan­ese ambas­sador to Ger­many in an address giv­en to Hitler and his fol­low­ers. Vic­to­ria has brought to light the actu­al words of these lead­ers and the writ­ten record of this peri­od. Zen at War con­tains dozens of sim­i­lar pas­sages from lead­ing teach­ers, prov­ing that this dis­tor­tion was the rule, not the excep­tion. There were some paci­fists, but they were few. Some priests who opposed the war may have qui­et­ly retired to dis­tant coun­try tem­ples, but they prob­a­bly left no record. Shun­ryu Suzu­ki Roshi (Zen Mind, Begin­ner’s Mind), the founder of the San Fran­cis­co Zen Cen­ter, report­ed­ly was involved with some anti-war activ­i­ties dur­ing World War II. But accord­ing to David Chad­wick who is writ­ing a book on Suzu­ki life, the record is con­fus­ing and, at most, his actions were low-key. The not­ed Zen writer D. T. Suzuk­i’s ear­ly writ­ing reflect­ed the influ­ence of Soen’s teach­ings. (To be fair, by 1940, Suzu­ki had changed his tune con­sid­er­ably). In 1896 as the war with Chi­na began, he wrote, ‘reli­gion should, first of all, seek to pre­serve the exis­tence of the state.’ Like his teacher, he saw the ene­mies of Japan as ‘unruly hea­thens’ who need­ed to be tamed and con­quered or who would oth­er­wise ‘inter­rupt the progress of human­i­ty. In the name of reli­gion, our coun­try could not sub­mit to this.’ Going to war, he called ‘reli­gious con­duct.’ Suzu­ki used poet­ic lan­guage in praise of Japan­ese sol­diers. ‘Our sol­diers regard their own lives as being as light as goose feath­ers while their devo­tion to duty is as heavy as Mount Tais­han (in Chi­na). Should they fall on the bat­tle­fields, they have no regrets.’ This metaphor of ‘goose feath­ers’ would become a major point of mil­i­tary indoc­tri­na­tion, teach­ing recruits and the young kamikaze (‘divine wind’) pilots that their indi­vid­ual lives were mean­ing­less and had no weight. Only total devo­tion to the emper­or would give their exis­tence mean­ing. Suzu­ki also pop­u­lar­ized the bushi­do con­cept of the ‘sword that gives life’ that was used over and over again to ratio­nal­ize killing. Years lat­er, the Japan­ese ambas­sador would use this phrase on ‘the sword that gives life’ in a speech at Hilter’s chan­cellery in Berlin fol­low­ing the sign­ing of the Tri­par­tite Pact on Sep­tem­ber 27, 1940.” (Idem.)

9. One should note that there were severe con­se­quences for any Zen teacher who opposed the war. This undoubt­ed­ly con­tributed sig­nif­i­cant­ly to the cor­rup­tion of Zen Bud­dhism to jus­ti­fy war. Nonethe­less, one should not be mis­led into mak­ing excus­es. Many Zen priests served as chap­lains in the impe­r­i­al Japan­ese mil­i­tary, and some Zen tem­ples and sects com­pet­ed with one anoth­er to under­write the pur­chase of sig­na­ture arma­ments for Japan’s war effort.

“Vic­to­ria points out that all Bud­dhists sects sup­port­ed the war pub­licly and enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly. If they did­n’t, the con­se­quences would have been severe, espe­cial­ly in a coun­try that val­ues loy­al­ty to the group above all else. Vic­to­ria pro­vides numer­ous exam­ples. Both the Rin­zai and Soto lead­er­ship were active in pro­vid­ing spir­i­tu­al sup­port to the mil­i­tary lead­er­ship and the sol­diers at the front. Many well-known gen­er­als were pri­vate Zen stu­dents of famous Roshis. Zen priests were sent to the front as chap­lains and mis­sion­ar­ies. Soji­ji, the Soto head tem­ple, orga­nized a sect-wide project to hand­write over ten mil­lion copies of the Heart Sutra, some in blood, to gen­er­ate mer­it for the war effort. Most Zen stu­dents are famil­iar with the for­mal ded­i­ca­tion of mer­it (ekobun) after sutra recita­tion. Both tra­di­tions changed their ekobun to pray for ‘the con­tin­u­ing vic­to­ry in the holy war’ and ‘unend­ing mil­i­tary for­tune.’ The Soto sect raised mon­ey for two fight­er planes, apt­ly named Soto No. 1 and Soto No. 2. Not to be out­done, the Rin­zai head tem­ple of Myosh­in­ji con­tributed three fight­er planes to the impe­r­i­al navy. The Bod­hisatt­va of com­pas­sion, Kanzeon, was offi­cial­ly renamed, ‘Kanzeon Shogun’ and invoked to bring greater vic­to­ry in the ‘holy war.’ (This would be the equiv­a­lent of renam­ing Jesus Christ, Jesus Gen­er­al.)”


10. The fact that some of the senior Zen mas­ters who backed the war and per­vert­ed Bud­dhist phi­los­o­phy to a fas­cist con­struct are still alive and influ­en­tial in Japan­ese soci­ety active­ly inhibits inves­ti­ga­tion of the Zen/fascist con­nec­tion.

“Kyoto — Hana­zono Uni­ver­si­ty — Insti­tute for Zen Stud­ies. I am meet­ing with Masa­ta­ka Toga, the direc­tor of the Insti­tute and one of Mumon Roshi’s oth­er suc­ces­sors. Hana­zono is the Rin­zai uni­ver­si­ty and the insti­tute is an offi­cial clear­ing house for their four­teen head tem­ples. ‘The war peri­od,’ Toga says, ‘is the most painful top­ic. I wish I nev­er had to think about it’ For some years, he has talked about it, but in a qui­et, per­son­al way. He par­tic­i­pat­ed in a few aca­d­e­m­ic con­fer­ences. The Rin­zai sect has nev­er spo­ken offi­cial­ly or pub­licly about its wartime activ­i­ties. When we talk about how the Rin­zai sect could dis­cuss this more open­ly, we enter into some­thing of a clash of cul­tures. I ask him if there would ever be a sectwide meet­ing or arti­cles writ­ten on the war. That is just not the way it works in Rin­zai, he explains. With so many head tem­ples, there is no sin­gle approach or forum to address an issue like this. There will be no open exchange. And the war is too recent, he says, ‘too alive’ and ‘too fresh.’ It would be dis­re­spect­ful to their senior priests to talk of such mat­ters while they are alive. In any case, such dis­cus­sions would be on a pri­vate lev­el. ‘In Japan­ese Zen,’ Toga explains, ‘loy­al­ty is most impor­tant. Loy­al­ty to one’s teacher and the tra­di­tion is more impor­tant than the Bud­dha and Dhar­ma,’ This makes frank debate on the war peri­od dif­fi­cult since many mas­ters said things that could be crit­i­cized. He agrees but says that if he ques­tions their teach­ings, he would have to leave the tra­di­tion. He is clear­ly uncom­fort­able with this top­ic. When I men­tion one of the more extreme quotes from Vic­to­ri­a’s book, where a Zen Mas­ter pro­mot­ed killing as Bud­dhist prac­tice, he dis­miss­es it, say­ing, ‘no one real­ly taught that.’ I leave with a sense of sad­ness. There is so much that needs to be explored, but from this dis­cus­sion, I see lit­tle hope. The Bud­dha nev­er taught that loy­al­ty was more impor­tant than truth or com­pas­sion. Blind loy­al­ty out­side the zen­do can and did have dis­as­trous results. Until key assump­tions can be ques­tioned, the roots of war­rior Zen remain alive and well. Japan’s major war began in 1931 with the inva­sion of Manchuria. From the mid-1930’s, Zen aca­d­e­mics and abbots embarked on an intel­lec­tu­al cam­paign to jus­ti­fy their war par­tic­i­pa­tion. They taught that ‘com­pas­sion­ate war’ was a Bod­hisatt­va prac­tice and was of great ben­e­fit to Japan’s ene­mies. As one Soto philoso­pher wrote, ‘there is no choice but to wage com­pas­sion­ate wars which give life to both one­self and one’s ene­my. Through a com­pas­sion­ate war, war­ring nations are able to improve them­selves and war is able to exter­mi­nate itself ’ Dur­ing this peri­od, mil­lions of Chi­nese were dying and cities were being dec­i­mat­ed.”


11. Explor­ing the phi­los­o­phy of well-known Zen writer D.T. Suzu­ki, author Baran notes that Suzuk­i’s view is that Zen can be wed­ded to any con­tem­po­rary philo­soph­i­cal and polit­i­cal envi­ron­ment, includ­ing fas­cism!

“In 1937, D. T. Suzu­ki was fin­ish­ing Zen and Japan­ese Cul­ture, in which he wrote that Zen ‘treats life and death indif­fer­ent­ly’ and ‘is a reli­gion that teach­es us not to look back­ward once the course is decid­ed.’ He wrote that Zen ‘has no spe­cial doc­trine or phi­los­o­phy. It is there­fore extreme­ly flex­i­ble in adapt­ing itself to almost any phi­los­o­phy and moral doc­trine as long as its intu­itive teach­ing is not inter­fered with.’ Zen can be ‘wed­ded to anar­chism or fas­cism, com­mu­nism or democ­ra­cy.... or any polit­i­cal or eco­nom­ic dog­ma­tism.’ What is this ‘Zen’ that Suzu­ki described? In Suzuk­i’s ‘Zen’, there is no clear moral posi­tion or teach­ing, you just merge with your cir­cum­stances: So, for exam­ple, when in Nazi Ger­many, you would be a per­fect Nazi. In Suzuk­i’s ‘Zen,’ once a course is set, you don’t recon­sid­er, even if it caus­es pain or is fool­ish. And in his ‘Zen’ killing is treat­ed with indif­fer­ence, along pre­sum­ably with the suf­fer­ing it cre­ates. What a strange and heart­less ‘Zen’ this is. Clear­ly, this ‘Zen’ is dif­fer­ent from Mahayana Bud­dhism that teach­es com­pas­sion and wis­dom. Per­haps we need a new name for this. I would argue that there are two main streams in Zen in Japan: Not Soto and Rin­zai, but one Zen based in the Bod­hisatt­va path and anoth­er based in the way of will-pow­er, non- think­ing and loy­al­ty — a way that is indif­fer­ent to the wel­fare of oth­ers and the law of kar­ma.”


12. Not­ing the fruit borne by the fas­cist per­ver­sion of Zen, the pro­gram high­lights the bru­tal­i­ty of the Rape of Nanking. (This book review notes the sem­i­nal work on the Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang. In FTR#509, we exam­ined the dis­turb­ing cir­cum­stances of Ms. Chang’s pass­ing.)

“As Suzu­ki wrote these words, Japan­ese troops were march­ing towards the ancient city of Nanking. They were indeed going to act out the Zen bushi­do creed and ‘treat life and death indif­fer­ent­ly.’ They did not look back. In Decem­ber 1937, the Japan­ese army seized the city, then the cap­i­tal of the Repub­lic of Chi­na. Japan was in its sixth year of its inva­sion of Chi­na. Mil­lions were dying. Japan had already con­quered Peking, Tientin and Shang­hai. Iris Chang, whose grand­par­ents escaped the city just before it fell, has writ­ten a bril­liant and chill­ing account of this ter­ri­ble war chap­ter. The Rape of Nanking: The For­got­ten Holo­caust of World War II final­ly chron­i­cles a cat­a­stro­phe that many Japan­ese still deny ever hap­pened. The Japan­ese invaders took full con­trol of the city on Decem­ber 13. In sev­en short weeks, they engaged in ‘an orgy of cru­el­ty sel­dom if ever matched in world his­to­ry.’ They bru­tal­ly mur­dered, raped and tor­tured as many as 350,000 Chi­nese civil­ians. In this blood­bath, more peo­ple died than at Hiroshi­ma and Nagasa­ki com­bined. For months, the city was filled with piles of rot­ting corpses. Near­ly 80,000 women were raped and muti­lat­ed, many gang-raped. Sol­diers dis­em­bow­eled women. Fathers were forced to rape their daugh­ters, sons their moth­ers. All kinds of inhu­man tor­ture were prac­ticed with­out remorse. Chil­dren and the elder­ly were not spared. Thou­sands of young men were behead­ed, burned alive or used for bay­o­net prac­tice. Japan­ese lead­ers had been demo­niz­ing the Chi­nese for decades as the ‘unruly hea­thens’ that Soen and Suzu­ki spoke of. As one com­man­der preached to his unit, ‘you must not con­sid­er the Chi­nese as human beings, but only as some­thing of rather less val­ue than a dog or a cat.’ The Chi­nese were also referred to as ‘pigs’, ‘raw mate­ri­als’ and even lum­ber. The bar­barism was so intense that the Nazis in the city were hor­ri­fied, one declar­ing the slaugh­ter to be the prod­uct of a ‘bes­tial machin­ery.’ Chang recounts the fol­low­ing inci­dent: ‘In teach­ing new Japan­ese sol­diers how to behead Chi­nese civil­ians, Tom­i­na­ga Shozo recalled how Sec­ond Lieu­tenant Tana­ka instruct­ed his group. ‘Heads should be cut off like this,’ he said, unsheath­ing his army sword. He scooped water from a buck­et with a dip­per, then poured it over both sides of the blade. Swish­ing off the water, he raised his sword in a long arc. Stand­ing behind the pris­on­er, Tana­ka stead­ied him­self, legs spread apart and cut off the man’s head with a shout, ‘Yo!’ The head flew more than a meter away. Blood spurt­ed up in two foun­tains from the body and sprayed into the hole. The scene was so appalling that I felt I could­n’t breathe.’ ”


13. Again, author Josh Baran cor­re­lates the sav­agery of the Rape of Nanking with the philo­soph­i­cal out­look of D.T. Suzu­ki and oth­ers of his ilk:

“This is Zen bushi­do in action: Killing as high art. The sol­diers are being taught the per­fect eti­quette in behead­ing — the exact way to cleanse the sword, the prop­er way to swing the weapon, the strong vir­ile shout. With this image in mind, con­sid­er the fol­low­ing pas­sage that D. T. Suzu­ki wrote at the same time as the Nanking mas­sacre: ‘... the art of swords­man­ship dis­tin­guish­es between the sword that kills and the sword that gives life. The one that is used by a tech­ni­cian can­not go any fur­ther than killing.... The case is alto­geth­er dif­fer­ent with the one who is com­pelled to lift the sword. For it is real­ly not he but the sword itself that does the killing. He had no desire to harm any­body, but the ene­my appears and makes him­self a vic­tim. It is though the sword auto­mat­i­cal­ly per­forms its func­tion of jus­tice, which is the func­tion of mer­cy…. the swords­man turns into an artist of the first grade, engaged in pro­duc­ing a work of gen­uine orig­i­nal­i­ty.’ In the light of Nanking, Suzuk­i’s writ­ing is grotesque. The spir­i­tu­al jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for killing and mass bru­tal­i­ty is unde­ni­ably the worst per­ver­sion of reli­gion imag­in­able. It is tru­ly deplorable that Zen could devolve into this kind of glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of slaugh­ter. This is pornog­ra­phy, not art. Also, from a Dhar­ma point of view, this teach­ing is total­ly ridicu­lous on so many lev­els. Many his­to­ri­ans have had dif­fi­cul­ty in under­stand­ing the Japan­ese bru­tal­i­ty in Nanking. Zen at War pro­vides some sig­nif­i­cant miss­ing pieces in help­ing us com­pre­hend the under­ly­ing mind of the Japan­ese mil­i­tary. As Chang relates: ‘Some Japan­ese sol­diers admit­ted it was easy for them to kill because they had been taught that next to the emper­or, all indi­vid­ual life even their own — was val­ue­less.’ Japan­ese sol­dier Azu­ma Shi­ro report­ed that dur­ing his two years of mil­i­tary train­ing, ‘... he was taught that ‘loy­al­ty is heav­ier than a moun­tain, and our life is like a feath­er.’ …to die for the emper­or was the great­est glo­ry, to be caught alive by the ene­my the great­est shame. ‘If my life was not impor­tant, an ene­my’s life became inevitably much less impor­tant.... This phi­los­o­phy led us to look down on the ene­my and even­tu­al­ly to the mass mur­der and ill treat­ment of cap­tives.’ Chang’s grip­ping inves­ti­ga­tion pro­vides us with the actu­al con­se­quences of the twist­ed reli­gious phi­los­o­phy that sup­port­ed and fueled the Japan­ese mil­i­tary machine.”


14. Anoth­er of the piv­otal Zen teach­ers who embraced the mil­i­tarism and fas­cism of Impe­r­i­al Japan was Daiun Sogaku Hara­da Roshi:

“For Zen stu­dents in the 1970’s, Phillip Kapleau’s The Three Pil­lars of Zen was the bible. The stars of the book were Kapleau’s teacher, Haku­un Yasu­tani Roshi (1885 — 1973) and his teacher, Daiun Sogaku Hara­da Roshi (1870 — 1961). Kapleau said of Hara­da: ‘He weld­ed togeth­er the best of Soto and Rin­zai and the result­ing amal­gam was a vibrant Bud­dhism which has become one of the great teach­ing lines in Japan today.’ What Kapleau neglect­ed to men­tion and prob­a­bly did not know was that Hara­da was one of the most rabid war­mon­gers in the Zen world. Accord­ing to Vic­to­ria, as ear­ly as 1915, Hara­da taught ‘war Zen’. Using war as the main metaphor, he saw the entire uni­verse as being at war. ‘With­out plung­ing into the war are­na, it is total­ly impos­si­ble to know the Bud­dha Dhar­ma. It is imper­mis­si­ble to for­get war even for an instant,’ he wrote. How­ev­er, by the ear­ly 1930’s, Harada’s war was no longer sym­bol­ic. ‘The spir­it of Japan is the Great Way of the Shin­to gods,’ Hara­da preached. ‘It is the essence of the Truth. The Japan­ese peo­ple are a cho­sen peo­ple whose mis­sion is to con­trol the world. The sword that kills is also the sword that gives life. Com­ments oppos­ing the war are the fool­ish opin­ions of those who can only see one aspect of things and not the whole.’ It is Hara­da who is equat­ed bat­tle­field loy­al­ty, march­ing and shoot­ing with the ‘high­est wis­dom of enlight­en­ment.’ He called this ‘com­bat zazen, the king of med­i­ta­tion.’ As Japan was los­ing, his rhetoric became even more extreme. In prepa­ra­tion for a pos­si­ble inva­sion, Hara­da called on the entire nation to be will­ing to die for the emper­or. ‘If you see the ene­my you must kill him; you must destroy the false and estab­lish the true — these are the car­di­nal points of Zen. It is said fur­ther that if you kill some­one, it is fit­ting that you see his blood.’ ”


15. Yasu­tani Roshi—a dis­ci­ple of, and suc­ces­sor to Harada—was a fierce anti-com­mu­nist and right wing nation­al­ist in the post­war peri­od.

“Per­son­al­ly, I found Harada’s words the most dis­turb­ing. Over the years, I had read his let­ters in The Three Pil­lars of Zen many times, find­ing his teach­ing enor­mous­ly inspir­ing. How could some­one so bril­liant in one area, but so heart­less in anoth­er? Is this the mind of an ‘enlight­ened’ mas­ter? Accord­ing to Vic­to­ria, Harada’s main suc­ces­sor, Yasu­tani Roshi was an ardent right-wing nation­al­ist and anti-com­mu­nist after the war. Also using vit­ri­olic lan­guage, Yasu­tani called for the uni­ver­si­ties to be ‘smashed one and all’ and called the unions ‘trai­tors to the nation.’ Tokyo. Soto Zen Head­quar­ters. A six-sto­ry office build­ing adja­cent to the Tokyo Grand Hotel, both of which are owned by the Soto sect. With its 15,000 tem­ples, Soto is three times larg­er than Rin­zai. In 1992, the Soto sect issued an offi­cial ‘State­ment of Repen­tance’. And just as I arrive in Japan, the sec­t’s Eng­lish lan­guage quar­ter­ly pub­lish­es an apol­o­gy for its wartime mis­sion­ary activ­i­ties. The arti­cle says: ‘... The Soto Zen school as a reli­gious orga­ni­za­tion sup­port­ed Japan’s acts of aggres­sion in Chi­na. Under the pre­text of ‘over­seas mis­sion­ary activ­i­ties’ it sup­port­ed Japan­ese mil­i­tarism and even par­tic­i­pat­ed active­ly in that mil­i­tarism. This is extreme­ly regret­table from the stand­point of reli­gious per­sons. Unless this neg­a­tive lega­cy of the School becomes the object of clear self-crit­i­cism, it will remain impos­si­ble to take the stance of open­ing our hearts toward oth­er peo­ples in a spir­it of true exchange.’ Read­ing this, I recall Zen Mas­ter Dogen’s teach­ing on con­tri­tion (sange), which is con­sid­ered the first step in Soto Zen. Before a per­son takes the tra­di­tion­al Bud­dhist refuges, he acknowl­edges all pre­vi­ous wrong­do­ing caused by greed, aver­sion and delu­sion.”


16. There is a move­ment afoot to address Zen’s wartime stance:

“I meet with Lester Yoshi­na­mi of the Inter­na­tion­al Divi­sion who explains how the Soto lead­er­ship has been open to self-exam­i­na­tion for last few years. In 1980, the sect pub­lished His­to­ry of the Soto Zen Over­seas Mis­sion­ary Activ­i­ties which was uncrit­i­cal pro­pa­gan­da, glo­ri­fy­ing the sec­t’s wartime behav­ior and its efforts to spread Japan­ese Zen in Korea and Chi­na. This sparked a sectwide reex­am­i­na­tion of its war activ­i­ties and all copies of the book were recalled. Their quar­ter­ly pub­li­ca­tion is filled with crit­i­cal arti­cles and state­ments. But Yoshi­na­mi tells me that the war is not cur­rent­ly an impor­tant issue for the Soto school. They are focus­ing on the human rights of the buraku, the untouch­ables of Japan­ese soci­ety. But there is a will­ing­ness to face the war. ‘This is a hard issue for Japan, not just the Zen school,’ he says. ‘We don’t want to acknowl­edge our war crimes.’ He talks about pos­si­ble future ways to broad­en the dis­cus­sion. Unlike Rin­zai, there is move­ment here and a spir­it of self-reflec­tion. The Bud­dha once said that to under­stand every­thing is to for­give every­thing. What hap­pened in Japan must be explored ful­ly, so it can be both under­stood and trans­formed. Zen Mas­ter Hakuin taught, ‘where there is thor­ough ques­tion­ing there will be a thor­ough­go­ing expe­ri­ence of awak­en­ing.’ ”


17. One should note that the mil­i­taris­tic adap­ta­tion of Zen pre-dates the rise of fas­cism in Japan by many years.

“It is cru­cial not to dis­miss this as mere­ly a Japan­ese polit­i­cal prob­lem. The Zen lead­er­ship did not just go along with the wartime band­wag­on, they were often the band­lead­ers. Plac­ing what hap­pened in con­text of his­to­ry and pol­i­tics in no way reduces the respon­si­bil­i­ty of the Zen tra­di­tion. In Zen, there is the ancient image of a red-hot iron ball stuck in your throat that you can­not spit out or swal­low. For Japan­ese Zen, the war is this iron ball. It is one gigan­tic liv­ing koan. It will not go away, even when the last sur­vivors die off. It must be inves­ti­gat­ed hon­est­ly if Zen is to remain a mean­ing­ful and real tra­di­tion. Truth denied is enlight­en­ment denied. This total betray­al of com­pas­sion did not just take place dur­ing World War II. For six hun­dred years, one Zen Mas­ter bragged, the Rin­zai school had been engaged in ‘enhanc­ing mil­i­tary pow­er.’ For cen­turies, Zen was inti­mate­ly involved in the way of killing. This is the sim­ple truth. Of course, only some tem­ples and some teach­ers, were involved, but this aspect of Zen was a sig­nif­i­cant part of Japan­ese cul­ture and became dom­i­nant for near­ly one hun­dred years. In fact, the extremes of the war were the full flower of this heart­less Zen that had been evolv­ing in Japan. The sword was real and mil­lions died. The most exces­sive sit­u­a­tions show us the inher­ent dis­tor­tions that exist from the begin­ning.”


18. The article—and the broadcast—concludes with the author’s reflec­tions about the need to face the his­tor­i­cal abus­es of the Bud­dhist and Zen philoso­phies direct­ly. Again, with Zen (and Tibetan Bud­dhism) hav­ing estab­lished them­selves in the West, it is impor­tant for adher­ents to con­sid­er the past abus­es in order to avoid a rep­e­ti­tion of those egre­gious errors in the future.

“For many Zen stu­dents, the most dif­fi­cult aspect will be how to face the words and actions of these high­ly esteemed Zen Mas­ters. How can we hold these over­whelm­ing con­tra­dic­tions? These were the liv­ing Bud­dhas of the Zen tra­di­tion — men regard­ed as ‘ful­ly enlight­ened,’ who had satori expe­ri­ences, under­went intense train­ing, received the offi­cial trans­mis­sion and teach­ing seals. Many were bril­liant charis­mat­ic teach­ers and koan mas­ters. And simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, these same Zen Mas­ters, were swept away in nation­al­ist delu­sion, per­vert­ed Bud­dhist and Zen teach­ings, and exhib­it­ed a total lack of com­pas­sion and wis­dom. They par­tic­i­pat­ed direct­ly in the deaths of tens of mil­lions of peo­ple. There is no greater abuse of the Dhar­ma pos­si­ble. What is going on here? This sim­ply can’t be ignored or casu­al­ly brushed aside as a minor mat­ters. Either these mas­ters weren’t ‘enlight­ened’ or their ‘enlight­en­ment’ did not include com­pas­sion and wis­dom. What Zen is this that they are mas­ters of? These ques­tions are not sup­posed to be thought about, let alone open­ly con­sid­ered. If they can’t bring up these ques­tions in Japan, then we will do it here in the West. We have to ask these ques­tions even if they are dif­fi­cult to answer and make us uncom­fort­able. It is just too impor­tant. This is our iron ball koan. What kind of Zen we are prac­tic­ing here in the West? For too long, we have been over­ly naive and uncrit­i­cal. The Bud­dha nev­er taught that we should give up our ratio­nal think­ing and intel­li­gence. For too long, we have accept­ed all east­ern teach­ing with child­like rev­er­ence, plac­ing our think­ing fac­ul­ties on hold. Per­haps now, with these new rev­e­la­tions, it is about com­pas­sion and insight. This is not about con­demn­ing the Japan­ese, but as one Sang­ha, help­ing each oth­er awak­en authen­ti­cal­ly. Spir­i­tu­al tra­di­tions also go through peri­ods of light and dark, bril­liance and cor­rup­tion. Zen is one of the tru­ly great tra­di­tions in the his­to­ry of reli­gion. But it will only con­tin­ue to sur­vive gen­uine­ly if we can face our demons. Bri­an Vic­to­ria has done Zen a great ser­vice by devot­ing many years to this uncov­er­ing. May it bear fruit.”



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