Zen masters are fond of drawing a big circle, to represent the perfection of the universal Buddha-nature
An English Judo man is sometimes asked to control someone who has got drunk. In Japan, to get drunk is not thought to be a great disgrace; people tend to treat the drunken man like a child. They try to calm him and get him to fall asleep. But in England generally, it is thought to be a failure in self-control, and such a man is disliked. ‘He does not know when to stop,’ is a frequent criticism in such cases.
The drunken man knows this, and he often denies that he is drunk. ‘You may think I am drunk, but I am not drunk,’ he says defiantly. There is a famous comic poem where the drunken man says: ‘I’m not so think as you drunk I am.’ Of course this is not English – it is meaningless. He means to say: ‘I am not so drunk as you think I am. ‘But he has mixed up the words. So his very denial is the proof that he is really very drunk.
I once made a collection of such statements which disprove themselves. A British business-man in Shanghai advertised for a clerk for the office, adding: ‘Good grammatical English essential’, The first application came from a junior in the newspaper where he had advertised, It was in Chinese, but ended: ‘Me English grammar number one expert. Top side.’
Zen masters are fond of drawing a big circle, to represent the perfection of the universal Buddha-nature. In 17th century Japan, a man tried to impress Zen Master Takuan by himself making a great circle in the air with his finger, saying in an exalted voice: ‘Such is the wonderful perfection of the Buddha- nature.’
‘What’s that?’ said Takuan, as if he had not heard properly.
‘I said that the perfection of the Buddha-nature is like a great circle. ‘
‘THE BUDDHA-NATURE.. .can’t you hear?..PERFECTION …CIRCLE!’
‘There’s an angle in it somewhere’ said the teacher quietly.
The way of speaking was contradicting what was being said.
Sometimes there can be a bigger logical tangle. I should say here that the British people do not regard themselves as very logical, compared to the French or the Germans, for instance. With those two people, something said in a logical presentation is at least given a hearing, whereas if the form of an argument is not logical, some of them just refuse to consider it at all. But, as the British point out, the French and Germans are often not at all logical in their behaviour. Sometimes they act without calm judgement, just on impulse. The British people are less logical; a famous British saying is: ‘Will it work, and does it pay?’ The Germans and French smile at this.
The Germans say that this is typical of the English thinkers; for instance Newton, probably the greatest scientific genius who ever lived, said: ‘I do not look for theories’ (hypotheses non fingo). The Germans say that this is the whole English experimental tradition: ‘does it work?’ And the French say that Napoleon’s remark is still true, that the English are a nation of shop-keepers, blind to glory, or anything but money: ‘will it pay?’ There is perhaps something in what they say. But Newton meant only that he did not make guesses. Of course he formed theories; every textbook on physics refers to Newton’s theory of gravitation. But he did not speculate without good evidence.
As for the French comment that we are shop-keepers, from the British point of view it means that we are self- controlled and sensible, able to look at advantages and disadvantages of a proposal calmly. The French (we believe) often do something on an impulse, and then spend the next three years regretting it. French intellectuals were overwhelmed by Marxism, whereas in Britain it had far less support. We could see that though it had some positive points, in general it did not work well. Furthermore, the so-called Socialist countries were deep in debt: it did not pay.
So though the British may not be very logical, we feel that we are sensible. We do not panic in an emergency, and we know how to wait for very long periods if necessary.
But British parents would not say to a child: ‘Don’t talk logic!’ as I have heard Japanese parents say. (Rikutsu o iu na!) So even I, as an Englishman, used to think that the Japanese were weak on logic. But later I came to realize some of the weaknesses of the so-called logical thinking, and then I came to think of Japanese as sensible and practical, like the English.
From a Japanese Judo teacher, Gunji Koizumi, I had an early lesson in the weakness of logic. Mr. Koizumi was an artist, a highly cultured man, who founded the first Judo dojo in Europe in 1918. It was called the Budokwai. He did not run it on authoritarian lines, but from the beginning as a democratic club. He was a Fourth Dan, but he used the same changing- room as all the other members, who learnt a good deal about Japanese culture from his conversation and sometimes little impromptu lectures, after the Judo practice.
I joined that dojo in 1929, when I was fifteen. I was keen on Judo, and through Judo I became interested in Japanese culture generally. One thing which struck me from the beginning was, that there were some big differences in the way of thinking. At that age one is taking in new impressions very fast, and extending the horizons of one’s ideas. Some of Mr. Koizumi’s illustrations were very unexpected.
In a conversation in the changing-room, I remember still how one member said: ‘Well, it is true, so that is the end of the matter.’
Mr. Koizumi said: ‘A true statement is not necessarily the end of the matter. Something can be true, and yet not true.’
‘Oh Mr. Koizumi, how can you say that? A thing is either true or not true.’
‘It can be true, absolutely true, and yet not true. ‘
I could see that the Englishman was thinking that this must be some mysterious Japanese way of thinking. But he just said:
‘I’ll give you an example, shall I? where the statement is absolutely true, and yet not true. ‘
‘Yes, please do.’ We were all gathered round now, listening carefully.
Mr. Koizumi went on:
It was on a ship. As you know, the log of the day is written up and signed each evening. On this ship the Captain and the First Mate took turns to do it. One day the Captain wrote and signed the log, and the next day the Mate. Well, one evening the Captain wrote the log and signed it without saying anything. Nothing special had happened that day. But when the Mate looked at it, he saw that the Captain had written at the end of the log: Mate drunk all day.
The Mate protested to the Captain, but the Captain said: ‘It was true, wasn’t it?’ The Mate had no answer, and turned away. The next evening it was the Mate who completed the log and signed it. When the Captain glanced at it later, he saw that the Mate had written at the end: Captain sober all day. He called the Mate and pointed furiously to the log. ‘Why have you written this?’ he shouted. The Mate just said: ‘Well, Sir, it was true, wasn’t it?’
We all laughed, and I suppose most of us forgot about it quickly. Mr. Koizumi did not explain any further about a thing being true and at the same time not true. But I had been impressed by what he pointed out. A statement is not just itself; it has a lot of other meanings attached to it. The statement Captain Sober All Day is not just itself. It implies that on most other days the Captain is not sober. That is in fact part of the statement. In fact, that part of the statement made the Captain furious.
Many years later, I saw how important these unspoken statements can be. In compiling news bulletins for the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Japanese Service, it is not enough that what is actually said should all be true. They must not carry extra meanings, not expressed but implied, which could deceive listeners.
In fact every BBC news bulletin is read by at least one other person, whose job it is to look for just such possibilities. We used to do this job in turns (like the Captain and the Mate), and I had a reputation of being sharp at it. Perhaps that was because I had begun to look for them early in life, after hearing Mr. Koizumi’s story.
© Trevor Leggett