A note on the Ways


During the first six hundred years of Zen in China, the pupils pursued their inquiry under the teacher and meditated without being given any formal koan. Their problem would finally crystallize of itself round a phrase from a text, a spontaneous saying or gesture of the teacher, or some incident of every-day life. Later, stories of the masters of this golden age of Zen were used, especially in the Rinzai sect, to provide an artificial centre round which the pupil’s energies could be concentrated almost from the beginning. When such koan become the centre of Zen practice, it is called “Kanna Zen,” which means literally the Zen of seeing (into) words. The Kanna Zen masters were famous for their inspiration and joy of life; but without an expert teacher this kind of Zen can easily become an affair merely of ideas. It is not difficult to imitate the solutions given in the old stories: a shout, a laugh, a brandished fist, “the sound of the flute in the garden!” Because there is no life in such imitation, it will never deceive an expert, but it may be good enough to take in the student himself.

Japanese Buddhists had a keen spiritual intuition of the importance of relating Buddhism to daily life. Acting on hints in the Indian and Chinese traditions, they developed what are called do or Ways. These are fractional applications of enlightenment to arts and activities in the world. They spiritualized the arts of war such as fencing and archery, and turned the household accomplishments of flower arrangement and making tea into vehicles for spiritual inspiration.

The Ways have each two wings: first, the technical attainment without which satori will not express itself fully in the particular Way, and second, transcendence of technique and manifestation of the inspiration always radiating from the Buddha light in man.

By studying one of the Ways, the student keeps his Zen practice in touch with activity and life. If he does not receive inspiration to some extent in his chosen Way, he knows that his eye has not yet begun to open.

Going deeper and deeper into a Way, the student finds a koan or problem naturally arising. This is not something expressed in words (thereby tempting him to solve it with words), but a koan which can only be solved by inspiration in action. Success or failure is generally easy to judge, and so is overcome the worst of Zen obstacles: self-deception.

There is a body of traditional instruction on spiritual development in the Ways, most of it orally transmitted to chosen pupils only. Sometimes a hiden or secret transmission is passed on in writing, but mainly in the form of cryptic sentences unintelligible without an oral explanation. There are important influences in the Ways from Shingon Buddhism and from Taoism (particularly in regard to the relation of mind, body, and vitality), but most teachers would agree that a real Zen master has a perfect understanding of the essence of the Ways.

A monk is stretching his limbs to invigorate the body and nerves before meditation. Note the position of the fingers. This and die following three plates show pictures annexed to a Chinese text reputed to go back to Bodhidharma. It is full of Taoist terms, but some of the ideas derive from India. (See above.)

The masters also hold that as the secret of the Ways is fundamentally one, an expert in, say, the tea ceremony will be able to understand the innermost secrets of fencing, though naturally he may not be able to express them perfectly by manipulating a sword. So far as the present writer’s experience goes, this is correct. After over twenty-five years of study of the Way called judo he is more than ever conscious of the limitations of his knowledge of that Way, but he has found experts of other Ways sometimes willing to discuss and demonstrate these things, and to some extent he could understand them.

The traditional Ways are technically difficult. It is not easy to find a teacher (many teachers instruct only in technique and not in the Way); it is not easy to attain sufficient technical skill to be even considered for special training; even if skilled it is not easy to become accepted as a special pupil; it is not easy, in the final stage, to give up reliance on technical excellence.

Still, the Way is not confined to the traditional schools. If a Zen student is sufficiently alive, he can practise the Way in the simplest activities of daily life, and find in them the clue to the Samadhi of sport. In the following notes a few technical points are mentioned, but only ta illustrate a general principle common to all the Ways.


The picture illustrates meditation on an enclosed fire at the tandeti and afterwards along the central line of the body. This is the twelfth and last of a series of psycho-physical exercises. The artist has skilfully illustrated the atmosphere of the meditation.


The breath becomes soundless. In profundity and purity, where all things are the Void, there is yet the germ of life, the source of all, the root of the great Beginning. This meditation also is the culmination of a series.

THE WAY OF THE BRUSH AND THE WAY OF THE BOW: Calligraphy and archery are here taken together; each is a delicate balance of static and dynamic in a static environment. The subtlety of these arts is clearly shown in the transition from rest to movement and from movement to rest. In calligraphy a crucial moment is what is called raku-hitsu, when the brush comes first onto the paper for the initial stroke. The raku-hitsu is a great koan which arises to confront the ardent student of the brush (Plates 1718). In archery the crucial moment is when the arrow is released, namely the passage from tension to relaxation.

In archery the question of the breath arises in a simple form, because the archer can take his time. Breathing in is represented by the sound “a” and breathing out by “um.” (The two together form the diphthong “om,” a very important syllable in Shingon Buddhism.) The student is made to listen to the sound of the in-breath, and to verbalize and prolong the out-breath: u-m-m-m-m-m-m-m-m. At the same time his attention is held on the tanden (see Plate 14). The mind is steadiest when the body is full of breath; it wavers at the change-over from out-breath to inbreath. By meditation on the tanden, the mind can be kept steady all the time. In fencing and allied arts, the ideal is to attack, when full of breath, an opponent who has just finished expiration.

Archery practised only on the range is liable to become, in the language of the Ways, “dead.” Archery classics tell the student to imagine that the target is alive, that his own bow protects his body, and that his arrow is capable of splitting mighty rocks. This is an important part of the training. Japanese archers draw to the shoulder; it is more powerful but not so accurate as the Western method of drawing to the cheek or ear. A Western archer demonstrated this fact to some Japanese masters, but they remained unimpressed. When he commented on their conservatism, one of them explained that the mental training was the main thing, and

If the attention is put at the beginning of the stroke, the stroke tails off into weakness.

If the attention is put at the end of the stroke, the beginning becomes just a preliminary and shows weakness.

If we try to hold beginning and end together, the middle of the stroke suffers.

If we try to move the mind with the brush, the sense of unity is lost, and the stroke gets out of proportion (here too big).

The Koan: How to make each bit of the stroke with full attention and power, and yet keep the unity and proportion? (See opposite.) 17. THE KOAN OF THE CHINESE CHARACTER “ONE”: —

suggested a duel. “If you are the better archer, you will win.” The challenge was declined. There is a kindred story in a Taoist classic in which an expert archer is invited to stand beside the Taoist sage on the edge of a cliff and then shoot. He cannot do so, and the commentator adds that he does not really possess the skill unless it is with him on the cliff edge. His archery is not yet part of his life; it is not yet living in him.

In brushwork the fatal mistake is to let the brush sag in the hand, when the brushed characters become “dead.” There are special methods of training to prevent this. A pupil who enrols under a teacher is shown how to hold the brush firmly. He does so for a time, and then forgets. He is told a few more times, but as he loses himself in what he is brushing, he forgets again. One day the teacher steals up behind him and snatches the brush, pulling the hairs through the pupil’s hand and besmearing it with ink. It is an irritating experience, but when the pupil has washed his hands and settled down again, he is gripping the brush with instinctive firmness. Now the teacher waits a long time, but when the pupil is absorbed in a difficult stroke there may be another chance for him again to snatch the brush away. His aim is to produce a flash of anger and he does so, but the true way of gripping the brush is driven deep into the mind. The anger dies away in a short time on the reflection that the teacher is after all right, and that his only aim is the pupil’s progress. No one trained in the traditional way is ever guilty of the most fatal fault, holding the brush loosely. No mere repetition could produce the same effect, nor can a pupil train himself in this way, for its essence is surprise.

KENDO, THE WAY OF THE SWORD: A samurai boy, when he entered one of the schools of martial arts, for the first months would be employed simply as a servant. Then one morning, the teacher would unexpectedly jump at him and cuff his head. “Why don’t you take more care? You

must not give openings for attack. If my hand had been a sword you would be dead.” “Yes, master, I will take care,” and the boy makes the customary bow. The teacher cuffs the bowed head. “There, again!” This time the bow would be a watchful one. Thereafter the teacher would occasionally throw a cloth or ball unexpectedly at the boy; when he could avoid them or not be disconcerted, this side of the training was approaching completion. Of course the method of training is tiring, and the pupil would rather study purely technical fencing methods for a few hours daily, and then relax and forget in his spare time. But there are many historical incidents showing that one trained by the traditional method will defeat an opponent even superior in mere technical skill.

Experts used to keep in practice, and test each other, by making mock attacks with a fan whenever an opportunity was given. The difference between technical skill and satori is illustrated in the following story: Two famous fencing masters were walking together along a mountain path. On the mountain-side above the path they saw a flower, and one said he would pick it. This was a direct challenge. He moved a boulder along the path till it was underneath the flower, then climbed onto it, stretched up, and plucked. All the time the other stood by, but the first master took great care never to give an opening or leave his companion unwatched, even when himself in the act of stretching out for the flower. He descended with it and was congratulated. They walked further and saw another flower. The flower-picker expected the other master would now attempt the same feat, but to his disappointment the latter did not notice the flower and they passed below it. Suddenly the second master was up onto a small ledge and lightly down again in one movement, with the flower in his hand. He had taken no precautions, but there had been no time to prepare an attack. As the first master stood bewildered, he received a light tap on the head from a fan, and realized he had lost twice in


(a) This is a specimen of calligraphy written by a teacher on a central line to show the balance of the characters. The raku-hitsu (circled) is the crucial first stroke; an expert always looks hard at this point, for it is here if anywhere that a fault will appear. The koan: If there is a motive for writing—profit, fame, amusement— that motive will disturb the mind, and this disturbance will be infallibly reflected in the writing. If there is no motive, how shall we begin to write? (See page 222.)

(b) This is a copy by a student of some months. It is faithful in many ways, but some of the strokes are weak. The raku-hitsu is surprisingly firm, until we suspect that the student has adopted a cunning means of trying to conceal his failure to solve the raku- hitsu problem. He has written the top left character first instead of the top right one, where the writing properly begins. He probably thought: “Perhaps the critics will overlook the weakness here.” Notice the feebleness of the left-hand side of his first character. The koan has not been solved in the writer’s mind.

succession. When they returned, each was asked privately his opinion of the other. The second master remarked: “He is an excellent fencer,” but the first said: “I do not know by what signs to judge his attainment; he has gone beyond the fencing arts known to me. Rare indeed is such a past master.”

Kendo is one of the most highly developed of the Ways; the poem of Hakuin on pages 173-74 presents its master koan, the koan of life and death.

MUSIC: Without energy and the power to concentrate that energy, no Way can be pursued. Energy is increased by living under a discipline and in association with those who know how to concentrate; it is dissipated by living planlessly and with planless people. For these and other reasons, a teacher takes certain talented pupils as residents in his home. A teacher of music, for instance, will give lessons to outside students visiting him every week; but his successor will probably be chosen from the few personal pupils in his house.

Suppose a boy is accepted as a special pupil. For some time he simply works as a servant in the house and garden. The master refuses to give him any instruction or even to notice him. The boy asks his fellow students to show him at least how to hold the instrument, but they dare not interfere. One day the senior pupil finds him in tears and listens to his entreaties. The senior says: “We students must not give you instruction; only the master can do that. However, if you are really desperate, I will try to think of something.” Next time the senior conducts a beginner from outside to the master for the first weekly lesson, he leaves the sliding door a fraction open as he retires. The junior is put by the chink; it is just possible to see what is going on. Fortunately the master is speaking slowly and clearly, so that the words of instruction too can be caught. As the lesson ends the junior is whisked away, but given an old instrument with directions to practise secretly. Every week the senior makes the same arrangement. To the boy the glimpses and barely overheard words are like jewels, and he practises at every available moment. The practice hours are the most precious of his life.

After some months the master overhears him, and without any remark begins to give him formal lessons. By such methods are created the vitality and burning spirit of inquiry without which instruction is not absorbed.

JUDO: This is one of the most complicated of the Ways, and perhaps the nearest to life. It is a general training of the whole body and not concentration on a special aim with special instruments. But because of the complexity of the technique, many students become wholly absorbed in technical achievement, losing the one principle (ri) in study of the individual tricks (ji).

In judo there is no complete rest at all; always the balance has to be actively preserved under the push and pull of the opponent. The student is expected to find the truth of the Taoist saying: “The stillness in stillness is not the real stillness; only when there is stillness in movement does the universal rhythm manifest.”

In Plate 19 the attacker (on the right) finds a small chance and comes in. At the crucial moment the opponent will either shift his right foot forward to take his weight, or keep it still (steps 2 or 6). If he moves his right foot, then the throw in the left-hand column (A) will succeed, and the one in the right-hand column (B) fails; if he does not move, then B will succeed and A will fail. The difficulty is that if we wait to see which he will do, we shall hesitate, and the rhythm of the movement will be lost. (The complete whirling action in B takes only about a second.) If we do not hesitate but go in blindly, we are liable to find ourselves attempting the wrong throw.

As in most of these koan, there is a sort of cheating

  1. Attacker (on right) is about to swing his left leg forward.
  2. If opponent braces his right leg by stepping forward . . .
  3. attacker takes his left foot forward and plants it down . . .
  4. swings his right leg through . . .
  5. and throws opponent to the rear.

The koan: If you anticipate one alternative, but he takes the other, the throw is blocked. If you wait to see what he does, you hesitate and spoil the throwing action. If you make your mind a blank, your body will not move. How to solve the problem? (See page 229.)


This winning throw from an important contest is a wonderful feat of technique. The strong resisting opponent, himself an expert, is carried high into the air by the tori, Mr. Watanabe Kisaburo, the combined weight being balanced on the toe-tips of the left foot. Apart from technical difficulties, beginners for a long time hesitate to throw the body into the attack, taking the head right down. They have to screw themselves up to it and so lose the opportunity, which is very short. The Zen sayings are “Enter at one stroke” and “Throw away the body to find the spirit.”

method by which we can half solve the problem. Suppose we have tried B and succeeded; when we come in again in the same way, the other man will probably expect B again, and this time he will move his right foot. If we have anticipated this, we can go smoothly into the other throw. Then next time we change again. Simple alternation is of course too obvious for success, but good results can be obtained by determining in advance a sequence like A-B-A-A-A or A-B-B-B-A and so on. Still the problem is not solved. By determining our action in advance we get the advantage of smooth uninterrupted movement, but often we shall still be trying the wrong throw and be doomed to fail.

There is a song of the Way on the point:

The trees on the mountain are not so thick That from time to time a moonbeam Cannot penetrate.

Perhaps we can find an intellectual application of this verse to the problem, but unless it can help us to find a solution in practice, we cannot be said to understand it. (See Plate 20.)

SWEEPING: Students of the Ways are expected to find opportunities to practise when engaged in household activities. Before beginning to sweep the floor or garden, a pupil may be told to press his finger between the brows and then bring it down the central line of the body to a point just below the navel (tanden). When the finger is removed, for a short time the sensation of pressure remains, and the beginner uses that as the basis for bringing his attention to the central line. Then he meditates that it is a line of light, and the rest of the body becomes shadowy and empty. Now he begins sweeping with the broom, but keeping up the meditation on the central line.

After some weeks the student can maintain the attention on the central line for longer than a minute or two. He does not need to use the finger pressure at the beginning. When tlie mind wanders off he brings it back. Meditation in this way relaxes the nerves and has an effect on posture and on movement, making the latter more efficient. An expert can tell by looking at the movement whether the pupil’s mind has remained on the line or been distracted.

TYPING: Part of the day the typist must practise perfect typing, reducing errors until the copy is perfect. This is the technical side. When substantial progress has been made on that side, the pupil may sometimes practise the line of light meditation while typing. All desires, fears, will, and body attachment must be relaxed. Will not the typing come to a full stop if the desires and will are abandoned? This is the koan, and it is solved by actual practice and not by words.

In everyday activities such as typing can be found hints for the solution of many Zen puzzles. “What is Buddhism?” “I don’t know,” replies the master. Then how can he be an enlightened man? The unenlightened man does not know, and if the master also does not know, what is the difference between them?

Consider the man who cannot type at all. He does not know the position of the letters and figures on the keyboard. He does not know, and he cannot type. Now take the learner. He painfully memorizes the rows of keys: A for the little finger of the left hand, S for the next finger, D for the middle finger, F and also G for the index finger. And so on, gradually learning the whole keyboard. He is one who knows, but he still cannot type very well, because he must constantly refer to his memorized plan of the keys. Finally, look at the expert touch typist. He has quite forgotten the position of the letters, and if asked suddenly what are the keys next to J he says: “I don’t know.” He does not know, but he types perfectly. Of him we cannot really say he does know, but neither is it quite true to say he does not know. He more than knows; it has become part of him.

In the same way the “know not” of Bodhidharma is

different from the “know not” of the emperor. Bodhi- dharma in his every action expresses the knowledge which is more-than-knowledge; he does not know it as an intellectual idea any more, and those intellectual ideas are a nuisance and would hamper his free expression if he harboured them. But at one time he had them and then they were not useless as steps on the Way. It is the same with Zen and scriptural learning.

CHESS: A young man who had a bitter disappointment in life went to a remote monastery and said to the abbot: “I am disillusioned with life and wish to attain enlightenment to be freed from these sufferings. But I have no capacity for sticking long at anything. I could never do long years of meditation and study and austerity; I should relapse and be drawn back to the world again, painful though I know it to be. Is there any short way for people like me?” “There is,” said the abbot, “if you are really determined. Tell me, what have you studied, what have you concentrated on most in your life?” “Why, nothing really. We were rich, and I did not have to work. I suppose the thing I was really interested in was chess. I spent most of my time at that.”

The abbot thought for a moment, and then said to his attendant: “Call such-and-such a monk, and tell him to bring a chessboard and men.” The monk came with the board and the abbot set up the men. He sent for a sword and showed it to the two. “O monk,” he said, “you have vowed obedience to me as your abbot, and now I require it of you. You will play a game of chess with this youth, and if you lose I shall cut off your head with this sword. But I promise that you will be reborn in paradise. If you win, I shall cut off the head of this man; chess is the only thing he has ever tried hard at, and if he loses he deserves to lose his head also.” They looked at the abbot’s face and saw that he meant it: he would cut off the head of the loser.

They began to play. With the opening moves the youth

felt the sweat trickling down to his heels as he played for his life. The chessboard became the whole world; he was entirely concentrated on it. At first he had somewhat the worst of it, but then the other made an inferior move and he seized his chance to launch a strong attack. As his opponent’s position crumbled, he looked covertly at him. He saw a face of intelligence and sincerity, worn with years of austerity and effort. He thought of his own worthless life, and a wave of compassion came over him. He deliberately made a blunder and then another blunder, ruining his position and leaving himself defenceless.

The abbot suddenly leant forward and upset the board. The two contestants sat stupefied. “There is no winner and no loser,” said the abbot slowly, “there is no head to fall here. Only two things are required,” and he turned to the young man, “complete concentration, and compassion. You have today learnt them both. You were completely concentrated on the game, but then in that concentration you could feel compassion and sacrifice your life for it. Now stay here a few months and pursue our training in this spirit and your enlightenment is sure.” He did so and got it.


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