What Is Zen?


Zen is a form of Buddhism that originated in China in the sixth century and has gone through much development and change in Japan since it arrived there during the twelfth century.  Its teachings affected many traditional Japanese art forms, among them flower arranging, painting, calligraphy, and the martial arts, including, or course, karate. 

Zen stresses the importance of living our daily lives to the fullest.  To do this, we must be able to see the world around us in its true form at each moment in time.  Our perceptions, however, are influenced by our own biases.  Only by understanding ourselves can we understand our biases, and thereby truly observe reality.  Zen also practices self-reflection through meditation.  Knowing just this much about Zen, you can recognize its influence on karate, in the practice of Mokuso, for instance. 

According to Zen, enlightenment is the attainment of emptiness or nothingness.  This nothingness, however, does not mean that you no longer exist.  Rather, it is like a mirror, which reflects everything, and leaves nothing of itself, even though it is still there.  If you can see reality as it is without bias, just as a mirror reflects its surroundings, you have achieved enlightenment. 

Recognizing your own biases, however, is by no means easy.  For example, there was once a karate student who was extremely skilled.  One day a common street thug insulted him, and the student fought back and beat the thug badly. 

But when is teacher learned of the incident, he scolded the student for using karate without discretion.  In his defense, the student said that he did not provoke the fight.  The thug had insulted him and he was only defending his honor.  "I see," said the teacher.  "Then if I insulted you in the same way, you would fight me as well?" 

The student quickly replied, "Oh, no, Sensei.  Your skills in karate are far superior to my own.  I would never be able to defeat you." 

The teacher shook his head. "then it would seem," he said, "you fought this poor man only because you knew you could defeat him." 

When the student realized he had deluded himself into believing he had fought for his own honor when in truth he used his skills in karate out of conceit and pride, he bowed and humbly asked for his teacher's forgiveness.  Because karate can be a destructive force when not used properly, it is very important to constantly reflect on yourself and your actions as you continue your studies. 

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