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11.Self-Discipline

  The self-disciplines of one culture are always likely to seem irrelevancies to observ-ers from another country。

  In the United States technical and traditional methods of self-discipline are relative-ly undeveloped。The American assumption is that a man,having sized up what is possi-ble in his personal life,will discipline himself,if that is necessary,to attain a chosen goal。Whether he does or not,depends on his ambition,or his conscience,or his“in-stinct of workmanship,”as Veblen called it。

  The Japanese assumption,however,is that a boy taking his middle-school exami-nations,or a man playing in a fencing match,or a person merely living the life of an a-ristocrat,needs a self-training quite apart from learning the specific things that will be required of him when he is tested。No matter what facts he has crammed for his exami-nation,no matter how expert his sword thrusts,no matter how meticulous his punctilio,he needs to lay aside his books and his sword and his public appearances and undergo a special kind of training。

  Their concepts of self-discipline can be schematically divided into those which give competence and those which give something more。This something more I shall call ex-pertness。The two are divided in Japan and aim at accomplishing a different result in the human psyche and have a different rationale and are recognized by different signs。Many instances of the first type,self。disciplinary competence,have already been described。The Army officer who said of his men who had been engaged in peacetime maneuvers for sixty hours with only ten-minute opportunities for sleep,that“they know how to sleep;they need training in how to stay awake,”was,in spite of what seem to us extreme de-mands,aiming only at competent behavior。He was stating a well-accepted principle of Japanese psychic economy that the will should be supreme over the almost infinitely teachable body and that the body itself does not have laws of well-being which a man ig-nores at his own cost。The whole Japanese theory of“human feelings”rests on this as-sumption。When it is a matter of the really serious affairs of life,the demands of the body,no matter how essential to health,no matter how approved and cultivated as things apart,should be drastically subordinated。

  These ideas about sleep and food,however,are small in comparison with the whole Occidental concept of self-sacrifice。It is standard Western doctrine that parents make great sacrifices for their children,wives sacrifice their careers for their husbands,hus-bands sacrifice their freedom to become breadwinners。It is hard for Americans to con-ceive that in some societies men and women do not recognize the necessity of self-sacri-fice。It is nevertheless true。In such societies people say that parents naturally find their children delightful,that women prefer marriage to any other course,and that a man earning his family's support is pursuing his favorite occupation as a hunter or a gardener。Why talk of self-sacrifice?When society stresses these interpretations and allows people to live according to them,the notion of self-sacrifice may hardly be recognized。

  In other cultures all those things a person does for other people at such“sacrifice”in the United States are considered as reciprocal exchanges。They are either investments which will later be repaid or they are returns for value already received。In such coun-tries even the relations between father and son may be treated in this way,and what the father does for the son during the boy's early life,the son will do for the father during the old man's later life and after his death。Every business relation too is a folk contract,which,while it often ensures equivalence in kind,just as commonly binds one party to protect and the other to serve。If the benefits on both sides are regarded as advantages,neither party regards his duties as a sacrifice。

  The sanction behind services to others in Japan is of course reciprocity,both in kind and in hierarchal exchange of complementary responsibilities。The moral position of self-sacrifice is therefore very different from that in the United States。The Japanese have always objected specifically to the teachings of Christian missionaries about sacrifice。They argue that a good man should not think of what he does for others as frustrating to himself。A people who have organized their lives around such elaborate reciprocal obli-gations as the Japanese naturally find self-sacrifice irrelevant。They push themselves to the limit to fulfil extreme obligations,but the traditional sanction of reciprocity prevents them from feeling the self-pity and self-righteousness that arises so easily in more indi-vidualistic and competitive countries。

  “Competent”self-discipline in Japan has this rationale that it improves a man's conduct of his own life。Any impatience he may feel while he is new in the training will pass,they say,for eventually he will enjoy it-or give it up。An apprentice tends properly to his business,a boy learns judo(jujitsu),a young wife adjusts to the de-mands of her mother-in-law;it is quite understood that in the first stages of training,the man or woman unused to the new requirements may wish to be free of this shuyo。Their fathers may talk to them and say,“What do you wish?Some training is necessary to sa-vor life。If you give this up and do not train yourself at all,you will be unhappy as a natural consequence。And if these natural consequences should occur,I should not be inclined to protect you against public opinion。”Shuyo,in the phrase they use so often,polishes away“the rust of the body。”It makes a man a bright sharp sword,which is,of course,what he desires to be。

  Beyond and above“competent”self-discipline,there is also the plane of“expert-ness。”Japanese techniques of this latter sort have not been made very intelligible to Western readers by Japanese authors who have written about them,and Occidental scholars who have made a specialty of this subject have often been very cavalier about them。Sometimes they have called them“eccentricities。”The purposes their techniques are intended to accomplish,however,are not impenetrable,and the whole subject throws a considerable light on Japanese psychic economy。

  A long series of Japanese words name the state of mind the expert in self-discipline is supposed to achieve。Some of these terms are used for actors,some for religious devo-tees,some for fencers,some for public speakers,some for painters,some for masters of the tea ceremony。They all have the same general meaning,and I shall use only the word muga,which is the word used in the flourishing upper-class cult of Zen Buddhism-The description of this state of expertness is that it denotes those experiences,wheth-er secular or religious,when“there is no break,not even the thickness of a hair”be-tween a man's will and his act。In people who have not attained expertness,there is,as it were,a non-conducting screen which stands between the will and the act。They call this the“observing self,”the“interfering self,”and when this has been removed by special kinds of training the expert loses all sense that“I am doing it。”The circuit runs free。The act is effortless。It is“one-pointed。”

  Many civilizations have developed techniques of this kind,but the Japanese goals and methods have a marked character all their own。This is especially interesting be-cause many of the techniques are derived from India where they are known as Yoga。Japanese techniques of self-hypnotism,concentration,and control of the senses still show kinship with Indian practices。There is similar emphasis on emptying the mind,on immobility of the body,on ten thousands of repetitions of the same phrase,on fixing the attention on a chosen symbol。Even the terminology used in India is still recognizable。Beyond these bare bones of the cult,however,the Japanese version has little in common with the Hindu。

  Yoga in India is an extreme cult of asceticism。It is a way of obtaining release from the round of reincarnation。Man has no salvation except this release,nirvana,and the obstacle in his path is human desire。These desires can be eliminated by starving them out,by insulting them,and by courting self-torture。Through these means a man may reach sainthood and achieve spirituality and union with the divine。Yoga is a way of re-nouncing the world of the flesh and of escaping the treadmill of human futility。It is also a way of laying hold of spiritual powers。The journey toward one's goal is the faster the more extreme the asceticism。

  Such philosophy is alien in Japan。Even though Japan is a great Buddhist nation,i-deas of transmigration and of nirvana have never been a part of the Buddhist faith of the people。These doctrines are personally accepted by some Buddhist priests,but they have never affected folkways or popular thought。No animal or insect is spared in Japan be-cause killing it would kill a transmigrated human soul,and Japanese funeral ceremonies and birth rituals are innocent of any notions of a round of reincarnations。Transmigration is not a Japanese pattern of thought。The idea of nirvana,too,not only means nothing to the general public but the priesthoods themselves modify it out of existence。

  Just as alien in Japan is the doctrine that the flesh and the spirit are irreconcilable。Yoga is a technique to eliminate desire,and desire has its seat in the flesh。But the Jap-anese do not have this dogma。“Human feelings”are not of the Evil One,and it is a part of wisdom to enjoy the pleasures of the senses。The one condition is that they be sacrificed to the serious duties of life。This tenet is carried to its logical extreme in the Japanese handling of the Yoga cult:not only are all self-tortures eliminated but the cult in Japan is not even one of asceticism。Even the“Enlightened”in their retreats,though they were called hermits,commonly established themselves in comfort with their wives and children in charming spots in the country。The companionship of their wives and e-ven the birth of subsequent children were regarded as entirely compatible with their sanctity。In the most popular of all Buddhist sects priests marry anyway and raise fami-lies;Japan has never found it easy to accept the theory that the spirit and the flesh are incompatible。The saintliness of the“enlightened”consisted in their self-disciplinary meditations and in their simplification of life。It did not consist in wearing unclean cloth-ing or shutting one's eyes to the beauties of nature or one's ears to the beauty of stringed instruments。Their saints might fall their days with the composition of elegant verses,the ritual of tea ceremony and“viewings”of the moon and the cherry blossoms。The Zen cult even directs its devotees to avoid“the three insufficiencies:insufficiency of cloth-ing,of food,and of sleep。”

  The final tenet of Yoga philosophy is also alien in Japan:that the techniques of mysticism which it teaches transport the practitioner to ecstatic union with the Universe。Wherever the techniques of mysticism have been practiced in the world,whether by primitive peoples or by Mohammedan dervishes or by Indian Yogis or by medieval Chris-tians,those who practice them have almost universally agreed,whatever their creed,that they become“one with the divine,”that they experience ecstasy“not of thin world。”The Japanese have the techniques of mysticism without the mysticism。This does not mean that they do not achieve trance。They do。But they regard even trance as a technique which trains a man in“one-pointedness。”They do not describe it as ecstasy。The Zen cult does not even say,as mystics in other countries do,that the five senses are in abeyance in trance;they say that the“six”senses are brought by this technique to a condition of extraordinary acuteness。The sixth sense is located in the mind,and train-ing makes it supreme over the ordinary five,but taste,touch,sight,smell,and hearing are given their own special training during trance。It is one of the exercises of group Zen to perceive soundless footsteps and be able to follow them accurately as they pass from one place to another or to discriminate tempting odors of food-purposely introduced-without breaking trance。Smelling,seeing,hearing,touching,and tasting“help the sixth sense,”and one learns in this state to make“every sense alert。”

  This is very unusual training in any cult of extra-sensory experience。Even in trance such a Zen practitioner does not try to get outside of himself,but in the phrase Nietzsche uses of the ancient Greeks,“to remain what he is and retain his civic name。”

  The Japanese thus wipe the slate clean of the assumptions on which Yoga practices are based in India。Japan,with a vital love of finitude which reminds one of the ancient Greeks,understands the technical practices of Yoga as being a self-training in perfec-tion,a means whereby a man may obtain that“expertness”in which there is not the thickness of a hair between a man and his deed。It is a training in efficiency。It is a training in self-reliance。Its rewards are here and now,for it enables a man to meet any situation with exactly the right expenditure of effort,neither too much nor too little,and it gives him control of his otherwise wayward mind so that neither physical danger from outside nor passion from within can dislodge him。

  Such training is of course just as valuable for a warrior as for a priest,and it was precisely the warriors of Japan who made the Zen cult their own。One can hardly find elsewhere than in Japan techniques of mysticism pursued without the reward of the con-summating mystic experience and appropriated by warriors to train them for hand-to-hand combat。Yet this has been true from the earliest period of Zen influence in Japan。

  Many Japanese sects,both Buddhist and Shintoist,have laid great emphasis on mystic techniques of contemplation,self-hypnotism,and trance。Some of them,howev-er,claim the result of this training as evidences of the grace of God and base their phi-losophy on tariki,“help of another,”i。e。,of a gracious god。Some of them,of which Zen is the paramount example,rely only on“self-help,”jiriki。The potential strength,they teach,lies only within oneself,and only by one's own efforts can one increase it。Japanese samurai found this entirely congenial,and whether as monks,statesmen,or educators-for they served in all these roles-they used the Zen techniques to but-tress a rugged individualism。Zen teachings were excessively explicit。“Zen seeks only the light man can find in himself。It tolerates no hindrance to this seeking。Clear every obstacle out of your way……If on your way you meet Buddha,kill him!If you meet the Patriarchs,kill them!If you meet the Saints,kill them all。That is the only way of reac-hing salvation。”

  He who seeks after truth must take nothing at secondhand,no teaching of the Bud-dha,no scriptures,no theology。“The twelve chapters of the Buddhist canon are a scrap of paper。”One may with profit study them,but they have nothing to do with the light-ning flash in one's own soul which is all that gives Enlightenment。

  The traditional training given by Zen teachers was intended to teach novices how“to know。”The training might be physical or it might be mental,but it must be finally validated in the inner consciousness of the learner。Zen training of the fencer illustrates this well。The fencer,of course,has to learn and constantly practice the proper sword thrusts,but his proficiency in these belongs in the field of mere“competence。”In addi-tion he must learn to be muga。He is made to stand first on the level floor,concentrating on the few inches of surface which support his body。This tiny surface of standing room is gradually raised till he has learned to stand as easily on a four-foot pillar as in a court yard。When he is perfectly secure on that pillar,he“knows。”His mind will no longer betray him by dizziness and fear of falling。

  This Japanese use of pillar-standing transforms the familiar Western medieval aus-terity of Saint Simeon Stylites into a purposeful self-discipline。It is no longer an austeri-ty。All kinds of physical exercises in Japan,whether of the Zen cult,or the common practices of the peasant villages,undergo this kind of transformation。In many places of the world diving into freezing water and standing under mountain waterfalls,are standard austerities,sometimes to mortify the flesh,sometimes to obtain pity from the gods,sometimes to induce trance。The favorite Japanese cold-austerity was standing or sitting in an ice-cold waterfall before dawn,or dousing oneself three times during a winter night with icy water。But the object was to train one's conscious self till one no longer noticed the discomfort。A devotee's purpose was to train himself to continue his meditation with-out interruption。When neither the cold shock of the water nor the shivering of the body in the cold dawn registered in his consciousness he was“expert。”here was no other re-ward。

  Mental training had to be equally self-appropriated。A man might associate himself with a teacher,but the teacher could not“teach”in the Occidental sense,because nothing a novice learned from any source outside himself was of any importance。The teacher might hold discussions with the novice,but he did not lead him gently into a new intellectual realm。The teacher was considered to be most helpful when he was most rude。If,without warning,the master broke the tea bowl the novice was raising to his lips,or tripped him,or struck his knuckles with a brass rod,the shock might galvanize him into sudden insight。It broke through his complacency。The monkish books are filled with incidents of this kind。

  The most favored technique for inducing the novice's desperate attempt“to know”were the koan,literally“the problems。”There are said to be seventeen hundred of these problems,and the anecdote books make nothing of a man's devoting seven years to the solution of one of them。They are not meant to have rational solutions。One is To conceive the clapping of one hand。“Another is”To feel the yearning for one's mother before one's own conception。“Others are,”Who is carrying one's lifeless body?“Who is it who is walking toward me?”“l things return into One;where does this last return”?Such Zen problems as these were used in China before the twelfth or thirteenth century,and Japan adopted these techniques along with the cult。On the continent,however,they did not survive。In Japan they are a most important part of training in“expert-ness。”Zen handbooks treat them with extreme seriousness。“Koan enshrine the dilem-ma of life。”A man who is pondering one,they say,reaches an impasse like“a pursued rat that has run up a blind tunnel,”he is like a man“with a ball of red-hot iron stuck in his throat,”he is“a mosquito trying to bite a lump of iron。”He is beside himself and redoubles his efforts。Finally the screen of his“observing self”between his mind and his problem falls aside;with the swiftness of a flash of lightning the two-mind and problem-come to terms。He“knows。”

  The significance of the koan does not lie in the truths these seekers after truth dis-cover,which are the world-wide truths of the mystics。It lies in the way the Japanese conceive the search for truth。

  The koan are called“bricks with which to knock up on the door。”“The door”is in the wall built around unenlightened human nature,which worries about whether pres-ent means are sufficient and fantasies to itself a cloud of watchful witnesses who will allot praise or blame。It is the wall of shame which is so real to all Japanese。Once the brick has battered down the door and it has fallen open,one is in free air and one throws away the brick。One does not go on solving more koan。The lesson has been learned and the Japanese dilemma of virtue has been solved。They have thrown themselves with desper-ate intensity against an impasse;for“the sake of the training”they have become as“mosquitoes biting a lump of iron。”In the end they have learned that there is no im-passe-no impasse between gimu and giri,either,or between giri and human feelings,between righteousness and giri。They have found a way out。They are free and for the first time they can fully“taste”life。They are muga。Their training in“expertness”has been successfully achieved。

  Even a person who has undergone no training at all may have a sort of muga experi-ence。When a man watching Noh or Kabuki plays completely loses himself in the specta-cle,he too is said to lose his observing self。The palms of his hands become wet。He feels“the sweat of muga。”A bombing pilot approaching his goal has“the sweat of mu-ga”before he releases his bombs。“He is not doing it。”There is no observer-self left in his consciousness。An anti-aircraft gunner,lost to all the world beside,is said similarly to have“the sweat of muga”and to have eliminated the observer-self。The idea is that in all such cases people in this condition are at the top of their form。

  Such concepts are eloquent testimony to the heavy burden the Japanese make out of self-watchfulness and self-surveillance。They are free and efficient,they say,when these restraints are gone。Whereas Americans identify their observer-selves with the ra-tional principle within them and pride themselves in crises on“keeping their wits about them,”the Japanese feel that a millstone has fallen from around their necks when they deliver themselves up to the ecstasy of their souls and forget the restraints self-watchful-ness imposes。As we have seen,their culture dins the need for circumspection into their souls,and the Japanese have countered by declaring that there is a more efficient plane of human consciousness where this burden falls away。

  The most extreme form in which the Japanese state this tenet,at least to the ears of an Occidental,is the way they supremely approve of the man“who lives as already dead。”The literal Western translation would be“the living corpse,”and in all Occi-dental languages“the living corpse”is an expression of horror。It is the phrase by which we say that a man's self has died and left his body encumbering the earth。No vi-tal principle is left in him。The Japanese use“living as one already dead”to mean that one lives on the plane of“expertness。”It is used in common everyday exhortation。To encourage a boy who is worrying about his final examinations from middle school,a man will say,“Take them as one already dead and you will pass them easily。”To encourage someone who is undertaking an important business deal,a friend will say,“Be as one already dead。”When a man goes through a great soul crisis and cannot see his way a-head,he quite commonly emerges with the resolve to live“as one already dead。”

  The philosophy which underlies muga underlies also“living as already dead。”In this state a man eliminates all self-watchfulness and thus all fear and circumspection。He becomes as the dead,who have passed beyond the necessity of taking thought about the proper course of action。The dead are no longer returning on;they are free。There-fore to say,“I will live as one already dead”means a supreme release from conflict。It means,“My energy and attention are free to pass directly to the fulfillment of my pur-pose。My observer-self with all its burden of fears is no longer between me and my goal。With it have gone the sense of tenseness and strain and the tendency toward depression that troubled my earlier strivings。Now all things are possible to me。”

  In Western phraseology,the Japanese in the practice of muga and of“living as one already dead”eliminate the conscience。What they call“the observing-self,”“the in-terfering self,”is a censor judging one's acts。It points up vividly the difference between Western and Eastern psychology that when we speak of a conscienceless American we mean a man who no longer feels the sense of sin which should accompany wrongdoing,but that when a Japanese uses the equivalent phrase he means a man who is no longer tense and hindered。The American means a bad man;the Japanese means a good man,a trained man,a man able to use his abilities to the utmost。He means a man who can perform the most difficult and devoted deeds of unselfishness。The great American sanc-tion for good behavior is guilt;a man who because of a calloused conscience can no lon-ger feel this has become antisocial。The Japanese diagram the problem differently。Ac-cording to their philosophy-man in his inmost soul is good。If his impulse can be di-rectly embodied in his deed,he acts virtuously and easily。Therefore he undergoes,in“expertness,”self-training to eliminate the self-censorship of shame。Only then is his“sixth sense”free of hindrance。It is his supreme release from self-consciousness and conflict。

  This Japanese philosophy of self-discipline is abracadabra only so long as it is sepa-rated from their individual life experiences in Japanese culture。We have already seen how heavily this shame which they assign to“the observing self”weighs upon the Japa-nese,but the true meaning of their philosophy in their psychic economy is still obscure without a description of Japanese child-rearing。In any culture traditional moral sanc-tions are transmitted to each new generation,not merely in words,but in all the elders'attitudes toward their children,and an outsider can hardly understand any nation's major stakes in life without studying the way children are brought up there。Japanese child-rearing makes clearer many of their national assumptions about life which we have so far described only at the adult level。

  
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