Friday, February 17, 2006

Kyudo and Zen

As I noted below, I am considering taking up Japanese traditional archery. One of my reasons for this is to become more deeply involved in something "Japanese" where I would also have to communicate using only Japanese and hopefully get somewhat out of the "special treatment" pit that non-Asian Japanese are put in.

One thing that worries me in addition to the tendency to waste time on the irrelevant (in my mind) is the heeby-jeeby stuff about Zen. Most Japanese know nothing about Zen and pay no attention to it. I took a Japanese Buddhism course in college* and have forgotten most of it, but still know more than 99% of the Japanese who I have spoken too. However, kyudo seems to have been converted by some into a semi-religious Zen experience. Just exactly what I have zero, none, zilch interest in. Hopefully, I will be able to find a club where I don't have to worry about this. If not, I will just start back into regular archery with some disappointment.

Kyudo was not so strongly associated with religion or zen until Eugene Harrigel published Zen in the Art of Archery in 1948 (originally in German as Zen in der kunst des Bogenshiessens in 1948). Before then, the Japanese never thought of a mystical Zen-connection with shooting a bow. Now nearly everything one reads or hears about it, from Japanese and especially from non-Japanese, claims that it is spiritual training more than it is archery. See this paper: The Myth of Zen in the Art of Archery by Shoji Yamada from the Journal of Japanese Religious Studies:

This is the type of nonsense that drives one nuts. Everything about Japan in the eyes of westerners has something to do with zen. Japanese individuals are often referred to as having some "zen-like" characteristic. Japanese movies are all related to zen. Director/actor/comedian Beat Takeshi has said he often tells foreign interviewers that his film ideas are somehow zen connected even though it is not true. He has been asked about it so many times, he will just agree and say, "Yea, it's zen."

The Japanese don't sit around trying to solve koan. They spend little time in a temple being hit with a stick by a rich monk for losing concentration during meditation. Few seem to have much interest in eliminating desire. Few have any interest in any religion, except for the fundamentalist Japanese religion of the uniqueness of the Japanese. That is the true religion of Japan. Zen is for naive foreigners seeking the mysteries of the orient.

*One of my professors (Japanese politics) who was Japanese said that Buddhism was never something practiced or believed in by the average Japanese---only the elites practiced it as a religion in the past. This would truly disappoint many of the mysterious Orient, zen nuts.

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