Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Why the fascination with Zen Buddhism and Budo?

I am frequently told, by people who don't practice Zen Buddhism, that there is a special relationship between Zen and Budo. The more I look at it, the less sense this makes, because I can't find any particular characteristic of Zen Buddhism that is not present in other branches of Buddhism. Can someone please tell me what is unique about Zen Buddhism that would indicate it has a special relationship with Budo?

The goals of Zen Buddhism and all the other branches of Buddhism are ultimately the same, that's why they are all forms of Buddhism. The tools they use to get there are different, but they all strive for compassion, mindfulness and an escape from the cycle of rebirth. Zen uses primarily seated meditation, other forms of Buddhism meditate on mandala, or chant sutras, or use a combination of all of these techniques. With all the forms of Buddhism that have been practiced across Japan, what makes people think that only one branch of Buddhism had significant impact on something as organic and disorganized as Budo?


Anonymous said...

Sheer ignorance: Zen has been the cool and "popularized" form of Buddhism to Americans since the Beatnick era.

Nayawa said...

This is an untrue post and affirmation, and I felt it was proper to inform you both that you are incorrect.

Budo arts such as Kyudo are used in Zen Buddhist practice both past and present, including in monastic settings. Notable martial arts founders (eg, Gichin Funakoshi, founder of Shotokan Karatedo, as well as Mas Oyama, founder of Kyokushin), expressed a deep connection between the practice of their art and the development of Budo and Zen Buddhist practice. The Zen concept of Mushin ('no mind') is referenced by various martial artists that pursue Budo, from practices as diverse as karatedo, aikido, kyudo, and historical kendo. All of this information is available freely via the internet.

And the biggest connection between Zen Buddhism and Budo?

The FOUNDER of Zen Buddhism is also the FOUNDER of Shaolin Kung-fu, the ancestor to almost every Budo practice you'll ever see.

So, the connection between Budo, and Zen Buddhism specifically, is incredibly deep both historically and in the current world of Budo practice.

May you be happy,


The Budo Bum said...


I must respectfully disagree about most of what you have written. The idea that Bodhidharma founded Shaolin wushu has been thoroughly disproven through careful study of the records of Shaolin practice and the history of the entry of Buddhism into China from Tibet.

Then there is the problem that Japanese budo developed along completely unrelated lines to those that wushu comes from. Wushu and it's descendant, Okinawan Karate, are civilian arts. The ryuha of Japanese budo are military arts originating in the chaos of the battlefield. That's why they are primarily weapons arts, and the unarmed systems developed so late in Japanese history.

As for terms such as mushin, they are not the unique provenance of the Chan and Zen branches of Buddhism. Such terms can be found in all nearly all branches of Buddhism.

I highly recommend you read Donn Draeger's books, Classical Bujutsu, Classical Budo, and Modern Bujutsu And Budo as a start.

Nayawa said...

Thanks for the information! I think I didn't understand your initial point. Re-reading, I think I was just trying to say its not a totally random association. Your points about the actual history are good, and I need to look into this. I wonder if historically, the Bodhidharma myth is the main force behind the Zen-Budo connection?

Also,you are quite right that as a practice the ideals of Budo are not exclusive to Zen. I thought about this a bit more in relation to my own art. Gichin Funakoshi speaks about the renaming of Kara-te to "empty hand" representing a means of emptying vanity and desire from ones heart. This is essentially the goal/practice of all Buddhist religions. And as you say, 'emptiness' itself is a concept found even in early Theravada Buddhism.

One thought I had about a possible reason for the continuing Zen-Budo association is:

"They're the only ones that want us!"

I'm only half kidding about this. Maybe I am wrong (I have never been to Buddhist temples in Japan), but from what I have seen here in the States, I -might- be able to go to a Zen monastery and practice Budo (in the sense that they might not object to it as a form of Buddhist practice). If I started busting out Kata at another Buddhist monastery I think they may ask me to stop.

I'm curious about your experience with this in Japan. Is Budo seen as a form of Buddhist practice by the temples? Which ones?

Finally, I want to apologize- there was a confrontational edge to my original response that was inappropriate, and much more a response to my perception than what you actually wrote.

Quite happy to have a place/person with which to ponder Budo.

May you be happy,


The Budo Bum said...

There is budo training in many Buddhist temples, not just in those attached to a Zen sect.

However, budo is not seen as a form of Buddhist practice. There are relations and connections, but I've never see it termed as a form of Buddhist practice.