印象派に窺える般若心経 Buddhist Undertones to Impressionism

間もなく五月が終わりを迎え、そこで梅雨の兆しでもある紫陽花 があちこちで咲き出しています。満開の桜は日本 を代表する風景とも言われていますが、個人的に拙僧が一番好きのは梅雨前の時季に咲く紫陽花です。まるで#モネ などの印象派の画家の筆から垂れた絵具の如く、その彩りが新緑と爽快な演出を共演し、これはまた季節の移ろい の表れでもあります。
The end of May is upon us, and all around the hydrangeas are springing into bloom. This is a sign that the rainy season will soon be upon us. The cherry blossoms in full bloom are often considered to be a vista indicative of Japan, but personally I much prefer the hydrangeas that bloom in the run up to the rainy season. They remind me of splashes of paint that dripped off the brush of Monet or some other Impressionist painter, with the colors combining with the fresh green to create a delightful ensemble. Once again, they provide us with another sign of the passing of the seasons. 
印象派禅宗を始め仏教をあまり意識していなかったであろうが、一瞬の「印象」を必死に描き出す試みが#般若心経 の「色即是空」の神髄と見事に重ね合うと思います。この色即是空が「世界が常に移ろいでいる」という世界観を表しており、ある刹那を切り取って絵にしようとした印象派の画家はまさにその原理を絵を通した描写したとも言えます。すべてが移ろいでゆくからこそ美しいです。その一瞬一瞬に意義を見出すことは色即是空でもあり、それはまた芸術でしょう。
I don't think Impressionists had Zen or Buddhism in mind, but their quest to capture their "impression" of a single instant coincides beautifully with the idea of Shiki Zoku Zekuu in the Heart Sutra. This four kanji construct conveys the idea of how the world is in perpetual motion, changing from instant to instant. The ability of the Impressionists to carve out those moments in their works could be taken as a representation of this concept. Therein is beauty because everything is in perpetual transition. Finding meaning in each single instant is the meaning of Shiki Zoku Zekuu, and that is what art is all about.
On a side note, the characters that make up the Japanese word for hydrangeas (ajisai) literally translate to "purple sun flower". There are other varieties beside the purple one, so I think it's possible to make other combinations of characters. For the photos shown here, it might be best to write 白陽花 (white sun flower) or 青陽花 (blue sun flower).

ローグワンに窺える戦国武将 Samurai Traces in Rogue One



The world was seized by a wave of excitement ahead of the release of The Force Awakens in 2015. In a certain respect, 2015 was “the Star Wars year.” Here in Japan, there were a number of Star Wars-related events and programs, one of which was the Star Wars Newspaper put out by the Japanese sports newspaper company Nikkan Sports. Four issues of the paper were released that year, with each issue introducing information about the new film through Japan’s own unique format for sports news periodicals. Nikkan Sports brought the paper back for a special issue in 2016 ahead of the release of Rogue One, and it featured a number of interesting articles. One that really caught my attention was a piece that paired Rogue One characters with famous warriors/warlords from the Sengoku (Warring States) Period that shared similar personality traits. Although some of the comparisons are a little off, it is interesting to see how many similarities there actually are. Here is my translation of the article.    


Galactic Empire





Darth Vader→Tokugawa Ieyasu



Dark Sith Lord and Supreme Commander of the Grand Imperial Army known all throughout the Galaxy. Once a young Jedi Knight with exceptional Force abilities who fell to the Dark Side and became the Emperor's enforcer.

Ieyasu trait: The Force


信長、秀吉の下で力を蓄えた虎視耽々。天下統一までの「最強のNo. 2」的立ち位置は家康ベイダー共通。人の弱点を見抜き人心掌握。洞察力はまさに「フォース」。

Ieyasu was a great warlord who built up his power under Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, waiting for his opportunity to seize control. The ultimate "No. 2" who ultimately unified Japan, Ieyasu's standing very much resembles that of Vader. His ability to see through people and identify their weaknesses resembles the perception one gains through the Force.




Orson Krennic→Honda Masanobu



High ranking Imperial officer with his own squadron of Death Troopers. Feigns loyalty to Vader while attempting to scheme his way into the Emperor's graces.



Masanobu trait: Loathed by all



Staff officer to Ieyasu who used his intellect and wit to wield influence. Comrades who had once betrayed and fought against Ieyasu in the past claimed he was "rotten to the core." He may have been despised just as much as Krennic.



Rebel Alliance




Jyn Erso→ Sanada Yukimura



The heroine of this particular Star Wars tale. The daughter of a renowned scientist, she's a bit of an outlaw who has been on her own since the age of 15. Joins the Rebellion because she believes she needs to atone for her past sins. Ready to stake her life on a mission with only a 2.4% chance of success to steal the Death Star plans.



Yukimura trait: Proclivity to tackle nearly impossible missions against imposing foes



Yukimura began his life in solitary confinement on Mt. Kudo, and then went out with a bang in 1615 when he rose against Ieyasu and his grand army of 200,000 strong during the Osaka Castle summer campaign. Yukimura lost everything countless times in his life, yet always rose back up and gave his all to take on seemingly impossible odds. Jin's own life journey mirrors Yukimura's path and experience. Both of them also share the distinction of having a famous father.




Cassian Andor→Naoe Kanetsugu



Rebel officer tasked with keeping an eye on Jyn and supporting their mission to find Galen. A true leader seasoned in combat and intelligence activities. Enjoys a tight bond with K-2SO, the Imperial droid he re-programmed.



Kanetsugu trait: Strategist


Kanetsugu devoted his entire life to being the staunch rock for his lord Uesugi Kagekatsu. His outstanding acumen in diplomacy and counter-intelligence resemble those of Cassian. His rapport with Ishida Mitsunari also brings to mind the relationship Cassian shares with K-2SO.


K-2SO: 石田光成

K-2SO→Ishida Mitsunari

Security droid that accompanies Jyn and her "rogues" on their mission. Once a surveillance droid, he has been reprogrammed by Cassian to fight for the "good" guys. Able to analyze any situation nearly instantaneously, but a bit full of himself and self-righteous. The polar opposite to C-3PO, he doesn't wait on people.


Mitsunari trait: Analytical prowess

Mitsunari applied his superb ability to analyze any situation to support Toyotomi Hideyoshi's rule over Japan. Both his superiors and subordinates reportedly viewed him as haughty, and he was never one to wait on or cozy up to people. That seems to describe K-2SO to a "T".



Bodhi Rook→Saika Magoichi

Imperial cargo pilot one day, ace Rebel pilot the next. Decided to cast his lot with the Rebellion after doubting the methods and intentions of the Empire. Piloting abilities are second to none, transforming him into a hero the second he takes hold of the controls.


Magoichi trait: True specialist

Magoichi led a band of nearly invincible musketeers, willing to ply their trade for whichever warlord was willing to pay them the right price. A persistent thorn in Nobunaga's side with their deadly skill behind the trigger, never surrendering to any form of authority. Bodhi's character brings to mind these characteristics.



Chirrut Imwe→Kato Kiyomasa


Fervent blind monk who continues to believe in the Force despite living in a post-Jedi galaxy. Drew upon his incredible spiritual power to become a master wielder of the bow staff. Always travels together with this trusted friend and ally Baze.


Kiyomasa trait: Master warrior

秀吉豊臣下最強の武将。「七本槍」「虎退治 (文禄、慶長の役)」などで知られる槍の達人。築城の達人としても知られる。熱心な法華経信者でスピリチュアルなところもチアルートと共通する。
Kiyomasa was one of the most accomplished warriors to serve under Toyotomi Hideyoshi. One of the renowned "seven spearmen" and fierce tiger slayer (during the invasions of Korea in the 1590s). In addition to his skills in combat, he was also an expert castle architect. His fervent devotion and practice of the Lotus Sutra (Buddhism) reveals a devout spiritualism much akin to Chirrut's own faith in the Force.



**Footnote: Chirrut's chanting of "I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me" instantly reminded me of a Buddhist chant from one sect that was commonly chanted by followers as they went into battle during this period. They were an offshoot of the Josdo-shin (True Pure Land) Buddhism, and their head temple was at Honganji (in present day Osaka). They believed that chanting "Namu Amida Butsu" would enable them to enter paradise should they perish in battle. One way to interpret this chant is "I take refuge in Amida Buddha". Some claim that the smooth manner in which the chant rolls off the tongue helps to remove anxiety and focus your concentration, so in that respect it is fitting that Chirrut mutters his own chant when entering the fray. Incidentally, rulers such as Nobunaga viewed this sect as extremely dangerous because they proclaimed all people were equal in the eyes of Amida Butsu (Amidtha Buddha), or literally "none above, none below".



Baze Malbus→Fukushima Masanori

Heavy weapons expert willing to lay down his life for his friend and sidekick Chirrut. A reckless character who doesn't think twice about the consequences of his actions. Not the spiritualist Chirrut is, he places his faith in the massive blaster he wields to deadly effect.


Masanori trait: Devoted ally

Masanori was another one of the "seven spearmen" under Hideyoshi at the Battle of Shizugatake against Tokugawa Ieyasu. He was close friends with Kato Kiyomasa, and both of them served Hideyoshi from a young age, displaying a strong bond that Baze and Chirrut mirror in the film. A reckless man that loved a fight, much like Baze in Rogue One.



Saw Gerrera→Goto Matabei

A leader of a partisan group that fights back against the oppressive rule and authority of the Empire. A rather extreme fighter that is sometimes more reckless than he is brave. His proclivity to go to the edge has made him feared even among allies.


Matabei trait: Hard core

Fierce warrior that lived through the thick of the Sengoku Period. Cast his lot with the outnumbered Toyotomi forces in the Osaka campaigns (1614-1615) and led a band of ronin (masterless samurai) against the Tokugawa army. Met a heroic death surrounded by enemy forces. His hard-core, borderline extreme resistance to authority conjures up images of Saw Gerrera.

日本の中空構造 Japan’s Functional Emptiness



If I was asked to name a particular Japanese TV program that I enjoy, the first one that comes to mind is “Master Works in 100 Minutes” on NHK. The show takes famous pieces of literature, ranging from works as diverse as the Old Testament and the Heart Sutra, and then examines their cultural importance over the course of four 25 minute episodes. Three years ago NHK aired a special edition of this program during the New Year’s Holiday. Dubbed “Japanese Theory in 100 Minutes”, this fascinating panel discussion brought together four of Japan’s leading scholars today:



Source: NHK





Seigo Matsuoka (Head of Editorial Engineering Laboratory)

Tamaki Saito (Psychologist)

Mari Akasaka (Novelist)

Shinichi Nakasawa (Anthropologist)



Each member of this panel discussion was asked to introduce and provide a straightforward explanation of one work they felt conveyed a unique Japanese quality. The conversation was incredibly deep, so much so that NHK decided to publish a volume that compiled everything the panelists said over the course of the discussion (a book which I have bought).



 Getting to the Core of Being Japanese



I’d love to examine each of the books discussed by this panel, but for the sake of this post I will take a look at the book introduced by Tamaki Saito: Getting to the Heart of Japan’s Empty Framework by Hayao Kawai. This book lays out the original theory that Kawai arrived at after many years of research. He argues that the core of Japanese culture is in essence “empty space”.


日本の神話には、正体不明の謎の神様というのが、必ず出てくると共通点に河合氏が注目を当てました。「それぞれの三神は日本神話体系のなかで画期的な時点に出現しており、その中心に無為の神を持つという、一貫した構造をもっていることがわかる。これは筆者(河合)が “古事記”神話における中空性と呼び、日本の神話の構造の最も基本的事実であると考えるのである。」

One common feature present throughout Japanese mythology that Kawai zooms in on is the presence of an obscure divinity. “In Japanese myths, we always see three divinities appear at key moments within the narrative. The central figure of these trinities is always an idle divinity that does nothing. I (Kawai) refer to this as the “emptiness” of the Kojiki lore, and it represents the most fundamental truth within all Japanese legends.”



Source: NHK


河合氏が取り上げる典型の例は古事記の冒頭に登場する三人の神:アメノミナカヌシ (天之御中主)、ツクヨミ (月読)、とホスセリ (火須勢理)。アメノミナカヌシとホスセリ (火須勢理)はちゃんと有為な神として扱われている一方、ツクヨミは何もしないです。河合氏がこの神話の構造をこう説明します:「日本神話の中心は空であり、無である。このことはそれ以後発展してきた日本人の思想、宗教、社会構造のプロトタイプとなっていると考えられる。」

In his book, Kawai calls attention to three divinities that appear at the beginning of The Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters): Amenominakanushi, Tsukuyomi, and Hoseseri. While Amenominakanushi and Hoseseri are depicted as active players in the narrative, Tsukuyomi does absolutely nothing. Kawai explains this mythological structure as follows: “The very core of Japanese myths is empty, indeed nothingness. This structure provided the prototype for the underlying make-up of all Japanese thought, religion, and society that have developed from that point (ancient times) forward.”



Source: NHK



This point really gets the discussion moving. Matsuoka’s draws attention to the “empty core” concept and states how the “空 (kuu, void or sky)” character in the word “中空 (chuukuu)” can also be read as “utsu.” This reading is derived from that of the character “現 (utsutsu, the now)”, which in turn gives rise to the idea of “移ろい (utsuroi, change or transition)”. I have explored this idea in a previous post, so check it out if you would like to learn more. As shown below, Matsuoka argues that this same concept is at work within Kawai’s “empty core” hypothesis (quote from Getting to the Core of Being Japanese).



I believe there is some weight behind Kawai’s proposition of a three-part structure centered on something empty, but with that void putting the two sides into motion. At a glance it appears there is nothing but emptiness, but out of necessity this void can give rise to something, or transform into this well of latent power. A stoplight has not just red and green, but also yellow. It’s more than just A or not A; putting something in the middle allows us to keep both. Japanese people pay special attention to the processes behind things, perhaps because of this functional emptiness at work within their subconscious, and really cherish them. They have to clue in on these processes, for failure to do so can cause things to fall apart when something alien enters that void.”   



Nakazawa further elaborates on this idea of putting something in the middle that Matsuoka described. In the following excerpt, he shows how this idea works within Japanese society and its view on nature, as well as the potential danger it entails (quote from Getting to the Core of Being Japanese).



Source: NHK



“You need three elements to form the cosmos, but the third is this latent force that never comes to the forefront. In my view, Kawai’s basic hunch is that an extra element is added to the virtual base underlying the dualistic facets of Japanese legends, such as the pairings of earth and sky or sea and mountain. This is the most logical mode of thought for human beings in our most natural element. In allotting this empty space, we create an area where we can work things out and reach a compromise with one another. Rather than simply eliminating what is different from you, it becomes possible to take the tenets of the “other” and make them a part of your being.”



“Japanese landscapes provide us with great examples of this principle at work, for they are based on the idea of leaving some form of middle ground. This is the satoyama (里sato for “village” and 山yama for “mountain”) concept, or the idea of a place where human beings and life on the mountain come together. A satoyama holds the potential to be a truly wonderful place for all life—human beings, insects, fish, and animals—precisely because it is a middle ground. It’s an acknowledgement of all the conditions for subsistence that living things seek. On the other hand, there is no middle ground in a world rooted in the rationality of calculation and planning. In a certain respect, Japanese society stands as a beacon of hope for people of all humanity because it is based on this idea of allowing for room in the middle. That said, this very characteristic is a two-edged sword. If we are completely oblivious to this, we could fall headlong into the same set of circumstances as that war 70 years ago.”



Akasaka continues this examination of the three-part structure at work. Just like Nakazawa, she believes this is the most natural mode of thought for human beings. At the same time, she also draws attention to Japan’s past and the tragic consequences of becoming oblivious to this structure (quote from Getting to the Core of Being Japanese).



Source: NHK



“There are those who say—including some Japanese people—the fact we don’t understand “God” makes us one of the world’s unusual races. The God I’m referring to in this instance is of the monotheistic religious tradition based on a dualistic structure of good and evil. I’ve always held that this form of religion bursts forth from the intellectual currents of ages of crisis, and that the natural mode of thought for human beings is more aligned with a three part structure. Indeed, Professor Nakazawa has reaffirmed that is the case.”



“Perhaps this three-part structure is what enabled Japanese people to endure into modernity. In that regard, I guess we could say we were blessed. In the Meiji era (1868-1912), Japan created a nation state with the Emperor as the divine head in the center, a system unwittingly based on that very three-part structure mode of thought. This approach led to the creation of a system that placed the Emperor in a position of “both responsibility and no responsibility.” It was a reflection of this empty core concept. This is not a question of good or bad; in the end it is just a system. However, when this system is “used,” it can court disasters that no one can stop or take the blame for. It’s like this black box that automatically carries out whatever is put inside it. Japanese people were unable to effectively explain the nature of this system after the war, and this failure has caused us to remain silent on the issue. The strain wrought by this silence continues to pile up today. I believe the system is root of that grave mistake of the past. Indeed, the fact we were so oblivious to this system being used is what led to that mistake. In that sense, we still find ourselves in an intellectual ‘age of crisis’.”



Source: NHK



Just as these three scholars explained, the empty-core structure described by Kawai is an incredible flexible method of thought. However, it is not without its faults. Saito argues that the important thing is to recognize both its merits and faults, and work to effectively manage them. One advantage of this system is that it incorporates elements from the outside, finds a way to make them coexist, yet also retain a vestige of their roots. We see this exemplified by the use of kanji in Japan. The very characters used to form the word 漢字 (kanji) make it clear where their roots lie. 漢 represents kan or han, which implies Chinese, and 字 for ji indicates written characters. While they were adapted to Japanese language and have been in use for over 1500 years, they’ve never lost that foreign label. Another merit of the empty-core structure is that it finds a way to preserve Japanese elements alongside those that enter from the outside. A classic example of this is 神仏習合 (shinbutsu-shuugo), or the fusion of Buddhism and Shinto. Buddhism entered Japan via the Korean peninsula. Instead of eliminating Shinto, Japan found a singular way to meld this continental religion with its own native beliefs, cultivating a unique system in which each religion made up for what the other lacked.



On the other hand, Saito shows how Kawai also warned of the danger inherent in this empty-core structure. The fact that there is nothing in the middle gives rise to a highly unstable quality. When faced with such instability, Kawai claims that human nature makes us want to put something in this middle ground. As we saw earlier, Akasaka touched upon the grave outcome of this tendency. Kawai leaves the following warning in his book: “The next time we let something encroach upon this middle space, Japan’s empty-core may very well cease to function.” With these words in mind, the four scholars concluded that the key is for all Japanese people to maintain a clear awareness of this structure, born of the living modus created over their entire existence. As we head into the future, I intend to see how Japan applies this lesson.



Author photo


喜捨(きしゃ)The Joy of Letting Go


Source: 800 Pound Production

スターウォーズエピソード4: 新たななる希望を始めて見たのはいつごろだったのかはっきり覚えていませんが、その映画が拙僧に焼き付けた印象は一生に渡って鮮明に映え続けています。印象的なシーンはあまりにも多いですが、その中で特に思いを寄せるのはルークにとって初めてフォースと触れ合ってその力を呼び寄せるシーンです。曹洞宗の僧侶である枡野俊明が著した「スターウォーズ 禅の教え」の前書きにはこのシーンを取り上げて、そこに窺える禅の教えを下記の通り解説します。

I don’t quite remember how old I was when I first saw Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope. However, the indelible impression it left has remained vividly etched within my mind throughout my entire life. There are a number of memorable scenes in the movie, but one that I am particularly fond of is the scene in which Luke has his first experience with the Force and calls upon its power. The Buddhist priest Masuno Shunmyou (Soto sect of Zen) highlights this scene in the preface to his book Zen Wisdom from Star Wars, and provides the following discussion on the elements of Zen teaching it exhibits.



Unfettered eyes: The wisdom to see all things for what they are



A number of scenes in the original Star Wars trilogy struck me in how they reflect Zen teachings. One that really left a deep impression on me was when Obi Wan gives Luke his first lesson in the ways of the Force. Watching that scene unfold, I felt that much of what Obi Wan says resonates with Zen concepts as we see Luke learn how to wield a lightsaber on the Millennium Falcon. Obi Wan hands him the helmet with the blast shield, effectively covering his eyes, and tells him “Your eyes can deceive you. Don’t trust them.” When I first saw this scene, the Zen word Isseki Gan (一隻眼) popped into my head.



Source: 田川悟郎書道 (Goro Tagawa Calligraphy)


Buddhism holds that there are five sets of eyes used to perceive the truths in Buddhism. First is the naked eyes (肉眼, niku-gen), which are used to see the world around us. Next we have the heavenly eyes (天眼, ten-gen). These eyes are for predicting what is to come. The third set is the wisdom eyes (慧眼, e-gen), which enable us to ascertain all forms of truth. The fourth is the dharma set of eyes (法眼, ho-gen). They shed light on the truth rooted in the reason underlying the macrocosms. Finally we have the Buddha eyes, which signify a merciful heart unhindered that illuminates the truth. That said, there is one set of eyes that encompasses these all. The Japanese word is一隻眼 (isseki-gan), and it describes possessing unfettered eyes with the special power to see all things by applying the wisdom we possess. I believe that Obi Wan was steering Luke in this direction, hoping that he would become a person endowed with unfettered eyes truly capable of seeing things (i.e. the Force) for what they really are. Thus, he covered Luke’s eyes with blast shield to ensure his sight would not cloud his view of the Force. For those of us who have seen the entire saga, we know how Luke ultimately did with this lesson. (End of quote)




Had Luke truly learned to look at the world (galaxy) with unfettered eyes by the end of Episode 6? Personally, I do not feel he had quite reached that point, given what we see unfold in The Last Jedi. I believe Obi-Wan’s intent within the scene that Masuno highlights above shows us why that is the case. Here I would like to expound upon the points Masuno raised by introducing an additional filter: the Heart Sutra, which is said to encompass all basic tenets of wisdom in Buddhism.



Artist: Loundraw

日テレの衝撃のスターウォーズ展 (From Nippon TV "Mind Blowing Star Wars Exhibit")



According to the Heart Sutra, all that we see is based on the definitions we create in our minds through our own experiences. These concepts have no actual substance. The relationships between the specified preconceptions we conjure form the framework by which we view the world. When we apply this Heart Sutra filter to the above scene, we see that Obi-Wan is trying to impress upon Luke the importance of viewing the world (galaxy) with eyes unclouded by preconceptions. Thanks to this lesson Obi-Wan imparts on the Millennium Falcon, Luke is able to take his first step towards freeing himself from preconceived notions. That’s why Obi-Wan says “You’ve taken your first step into a larger world (one unfettered by concepts)” at the end of this scene.




However, even after taking his first major step into a larger world, Luke continues to cling to preconceptions. We see him encounter failure in his training with Yoda on Dagobah. Yoda tells him to use the Force to raise his sunken X-Wing from the swamp and move it to dry land. Luke “tries” instead of merely doing as he is told, and as a result he fails to complete the task handed to him. He convinces himself that that it is impossible (based on his own experience) to move a large object like an X-Wing using only the Force and not a machine. In short, he conjures up a preconception that inhibits the potential of the Force within him. In showing Luke what it means to put one’s trust in the Force, Yoda not only aims to admonish Luke, but also make him understand how pointless such preconceptions are.



伝説のジェダイ:ルークスカイウォーカー (Legendary Jedi: Luke Skywalker)

日テレの衝撃のスターウォーズ展 (From Nippon TV "Mind Blowing Star Wars Exhibit")



Luke still hasn’t fully learned this lesson by the time we see him in The Last Jedi. Rather, we find him held captive to a new concepts: his own preconceptions concerning the nature of the Dark Side of the Force and the legend of Darth Vader. In a certain respect, these ideas stemmed from the words that Yoda had uttered to him on Dagobah: “If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.” When Luke saw the darkness spreading within his nephew Ben Solo, he assumed that it would forever dominate his path and destine him to commit horrific deeds. Thus, he decided the only way prevent this future from occurring was to murder him. This preconception that Luke built up within his mind led him to take the wrong course of action, which in turn ultimately brought about the very future he sought to avert.



最後のジェダイのアイマックスポスター (The Last Jedi Imax Poster)


The guilt of this mistake weighed so heavily on Luke that he decided to cut himself off from the Force. When Rey comes to Ahch-To in search of guidance in how to use the Force, Luke refuses to show her the ways of the Jedi because of the glimpses of darkness he sees within her. After Rey leaves, he decides to destroy the remnants of the Jedi order, and it is in this very moment he has reunion with Yoda. Speaking with his former master, Luke finally understands that preconceptions are nothing more than fetters that we must abandon. In his book on Zen and Star Wars, Priest Masuno describes this realization by using the Zen word “ki-sha (喜捨)”, which literally means “joyfully abandon regret”. When Luke accepts this notion of ki-sha, he obtains the unfettered eyes that allow him to experience the infinite potential of the Force that Obi Wan and Yoda attempted to show him.




Ki-sha (the joy of letting go). Yoda knew what that was all about. That’s why he summoned the lightning at the end to destroy the Force tree. You simply can’t see the forest (Force) for the trees (one aspect of the Force).

スターウォーズに反映される禅の考え方 Zen Thought Reflected in Star Wars



"The Last Jedi", the eighth installment in the Star Wars saga, is now out in theaters everywhere. The Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shinbun ran a special feature in which they asked people from different professions to talk about their own connection with the saga. One individual they spoke with was Masuno Shunmyou, a Zen priest. He described the connections he sees between Star Wars and Zen.



Masuno Shunmyo



A few years back a representative from a publishing company contacted me and said, “I’ve heard there are Zen influences in the Star Wars saga. Is that true?” I remember how surprised I was when I watched the original trilogy and noticed elements of Zen thought clearly reflected in the films. They are filled with scenes in which we see people grapple with how to set their mind and face the world (galaxy) in which they live.   


I believe the Star Wars saga can be succinctly described by the word in-en (因縁). The character 因 (in) represents the idea of “pretexts” that cause things to happen, while 縁 (en) refers to the connections and criteria by which we interact with others. In Buddhism we have the four character words 善因善果 (zen-in zen-ka) and 悪因悪果 (aku-in akka). Efforts to create good pretexts (善因) will ultimately lead to favorable outcomes (善果). On the other hand, sowing ill-intentioned pretexts (悪因) hasten your journey down the path of evil. The starting point is the same but the actions taken lead to different paths, as we see in Star Wars. There is Darth Vader, the embodiment of evil. We also have those who fight in order to bring peace to the galaxy. The Star Wars saga shows us why it matters how we choose to connect 因 (in, pretext) and 縁 (en, relationships).




There is definitely a close affinity between Zen and philosophy, for both explore the question of how people are supposed to lead their lives. The key difference is that Zen stresses reaching understanding through physical experience. In that regard, Zen is more synonymous with “action” rather than “learning”. This action is cultivated through ascetic practice. We can see a similarity with wielders of that mysterious power known as the Force who strive to become Jedi in Star Wars. Instead of study, they seek understanding through experience (action).




Today more people around the world are taking an active interest in Zen. Throughout history people have put stock in material wealth as the basis for affluence and happiness. However, they find that an abundance of possessions does not make them rich, and begin to realize that this material wealth will never be enough. Zen stresses that it is spiritual wealth, not material, that matters most. People in this day and age are starting to clue into that. I believe that the father of the saga George Lucas was trying to show people this alternative approach to life through his Star Wars films.

ヨーダの教えに窺える東洋思想 Eastern Thought Underlying Yoda’s Teachings



“And well you should not, for my ally is the Force. And a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you. Here, between you, me, the tree, the rock—everywhere. Yes, even between the land and the ship.”



These famous lines are uttered by the Jedi master Yoda, and whether or not you’re a Star Wars fan, I’m sure many of you have heard this dialogue at some point. In the film, Yoda utters these words to Luke in attempt to get him to recognize the Force in all things and embrace its power. It’d be no exaggeration to say that this lesson Yoda imparts to Luke has taken on a Biblical status in Western countries today. Speaking through Yoda, this scene pretty much lays out the philosophy underlying the doctrine of the Force in Star Wars. I never really contemplated the origins of this philosophy before I came to Japan. However, as I studied the religious thought and worldview that is vividly reflected within Japanese culture and art, I came to realize the profound undertones of Eastern intellectual thought within the Force doctrine.




The main religion of ancient Japan is referred to as “Old Shinto”, a system of beliefs centered around nature worship that formed the basis of present day “Shrine-based Shinto”. The 6-7th centuries saw the introduction of Buddhism and other religions from the continent via torai-jin, the Japanese term used to refer to immigrants from mainly the Korean peninsula. Naturally the introduction of these foreign-born religions gave rise to friction with Shinto, but Japan ultimately elected the path of accommodation and fusion rather than outright rejection and exclusion. This casserole of religions that came to coexist in Japan not only included Shinto and Buddhism, but also Taoism. I believe the quote by Master Yoda at the beginning of this post reflects elements of all three of these religions. Here I will take a look at each and how they relate to the doctrine of the Force in Star Wars.



まず、日本にて一番長い歴史を持つ神道から検証します。神道には「依代・憑代 (よりしろ)」という考え方があります。それは、あらゆる物に精霊などのマナ(外来魂)が宿ると考える自然崇拝の宗教観の表れです。多くの神社の境内に見られる大きな神木がその考え方を象徴します。この神木は、榊や梛木(なぎ)のような革厚で光沢のある葉を持つ常緑の広葉樹であり、そこに神が降臨して依り憑くと信じられています。要するに、神聖かつ神秘的な力が宿るものを意味します。これはヨーダがいう自然なものに存在する(宿る)フォースのことと連想するではないかと思います。また、ジェダイ寺院の中庭に立派に聳え立つ「フォースの樹」のイメージも思い浮かべます。その名称の意味通りに、その樹にはフォースが宿り、まさに神道における依代との考え方に重ねます。

The first we have is Shinto, which is the oldest religion in Japan. One concept that is present in Shinto is the idea of yori-shiro. This concept is rooted in nature worship, and expresses the belief that supernatural power in the form of gods, spirits, or souls (collectively known as mana) can inhabit all things. The large sacred trees seen on the grounds of many shrines are a representation of this idea. Divinities are believed to descend and inhabit these trees, which are usually a type of flowering evergreen or Asian bayberry tree with thick bark and glossy leaves. That’s basically what yori-shiro is all about; the idea of a sacred and mystical power that dwells within things. This is seemingly reflected within what Master Yoda says when he describes how the Force exists (resides) within natural objects. Another image that comes to mind is the stately “Force Tree” that stood in the inner garden of the Jedi Temple. Just as the name implies, the Force was said to dwell within this tree, which coincides nicely with the Shinto concept of yori-shiro.




The vestiges of Daoism also become apparent when we apply the filter of Eastern philosophy to this famous quote of Yoda. This point is discussed to great length on a blog post that I have previously read. One thing the article points out is the striking resemblance between the notion of Ki within Daoism and the Force. Daoism supposedly emerged from the thought of Laozi, a philosopher in ancient China. However, much of Laozi’s life is enveloped by legend and mystery, and the truth is not much is known about him. Bearing that in mind, the article contains the following quote attributed to Laozi:



“The way gives rise to Ki, virtue causes it to accumulate, objects give it form, and momentum generates it. Given this, all things under Heaven cherish virtue, with none forsaking the way. The respect for the way and loftiness of virtue are not preordained. They simply exist because they are naturally occurring. This is why the way gives rise to Ki, why virtue nourishes it, causes it to grow, nurtures it, encompasses it, refines it, cultivates it, and enshrouds it. Though virtue also emanates from within us, it is not ours to possess. While it underscores our deeds, we are not to boast of them. This virtue continually matures, yet never reaches full fruition. This is what we consider to be pure virtue.”




When I read this passage to attributed to Laozi, the first thing that came to mind was the relationship between the Living Force and the Cosmic Force. Serenity, one of the Force Priestesses, described the nature of the Force in the following manner to Yoda when he came to the home world of the midichlorians: “Life passes from the Living Force into the Cosmic Force and becomes one with it. One powers the other. One is renewed by the other." These words resemble what Laozi says in the passage above in describing the origins of Ki: “The way gives rise to Ki, virtue causes it to accumulate, objects give it form, and momentum generates it.” Here Laozi mentions both the way and virtue, but they are essentially referring to the same thing and can be interpreted as thus. Even more interesting is that the two kanji used to create the word “virtue” in Japanese, “道徳 (do-toku)” are the same as the characters used to refer to the way (道, do) and virtue (徳, toku). Now when we compare what Master Yoda says to a despondent Luke on Dagobah to the words of Laozi, we find a striking parallel. “Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us” seemingly echoes the interrelationship to which Laozi alludes: “the way gives rise to Ki… virtue nourishes it, causes it to grow… encompasses it… cultivates it, and enshrouds it.”



最後は仏教の面影です。あの名シーンの邦訳は非常に興味深い言葉が用いられて、その言葉は仏教に基づいた世界観を仄めかします。その言葉はヨーダがルークにいうセリフの最後に登場します:「ここにも、お前と儂のにも、あの木にも、岩にも。どこにもある。そう、陸地とあの船のにもじゃ。 」ここに注目が惹きつけるのは「間(あいだ)」というたった一文字で成り立つ言葉です。「間(あいだ)」を英語にしますと「space」や 「space between」という意味になりますが、その意味を成す別の読み方「ま」もあります。日本の歴史・文化・思想史を長年に渡って研究してきた松岡正剛はこの「間(ま)」という言葉の意味は歴史の流れに伴って変遷してきたと指摘します。“上代および古代初期においては、「間」は最初のうちは「あいだ」を指す言葉ではなかった。もともと「ま」という言葉は「真」という字があてられていた。「真」という言葉は、真剣とか真理とか真相とかというふうに使われるように、究極的な真なるものをさしていたのです。”

Finally we come to the visages of Buddhism within Yoda’s thoughts. The Japanese translation of that scene employs a pretty profound word that evokes a world view rooted in Buddhist thought. This word comes up in the final part of what Yoda says to Luke: “Koko ni mo, omae to washi no aida () ni mo, ano ki ni mo, iwa ni mo. Doko ni mo aru. Sou, rikuchi to ano fune no aida () ni mo ja (Here, between you, me, the tree, the rock—everywhere. Yes, even between the land and the ship).” The Japanese word that caught my attention consists of the single character read as aida (間). The word aida can be translated into English as “space” or “the space (between)”, but that same character can also be read as ma. Seigo Matsuoka—a scholar that has devoted his entire career to the study of Japanese history, culture, and intellectual thought—points out how the meaning of ma has changed over the course of history. “In ancient times and early antiquity the word ma (間) did not imply the meaning of aida (space, space between). Instead, the kanji character originally used for ma was 真. This character implies the meaning expressed in words such as 真剣 (“shinken”, or “earnest, solemn, sincere”), 真理 (“shinri”, or “(a) truth), and 真相 (“shinso”, or “(the) truth''). In short, the word ma conveyed the idea of some ultimate truth.”



仏教においてその究極的な真なるものを挙げますと般若心経が唱える「色即是空」という真理です。つまり、この世界は「空(くう)」であるとのことです。この「空(くう)」を直訳しますと「empty」や「void」となりますが、なんかいまいちの訳になり、それで空が指す意味がなかなか訳出されないと拙僧が思います。この文脈において空が指すのは「概念」であり、その概念がないことを理解しますと見方が180度転換します。つまり、我が見るすべてが実態を持たない「概念」に過ぎず、その概念から解かれるとこの世界は常に移ろいでいることに気づきます。これはまさにヨーダがいう「You must unlearn what you have learned (今まで学んできたことを念頭から払う必要がある)」のことです。陸地とX-wingの間は「空」でもありますが、そこにフォースが常に移ろいでいて、流れています。その流れには形は無い、だからそのフォースに対して概念に囚われて見てはいけないとヨーダがルークに諭そうとしています。遂にルークがその真理に悟りますと、繰り広げる空(そら)の如くフォースの無限さを理解できて、その時まで足枷となっていた概念から解放されます。

The ultimate truth within Buddhism is expressed by the four kanji construct in the Heart Sutra: “色即是空 (shiki soku ze kuu, or “all form is emptiness”). The last character of this construct, 空 (kuu), implies that all things in this world are without form. This is a tricky character to translate into English, for a literal translation churns out words like “empty” and “void”, both of which fail to fully convey the idea of kuu. The word kuu in this context is used in reference to “concepts” or “ideas”, and the fact that we must realize they do not exist. Once we understand this, we can see the world in an entirely different light. In short, everything that we see is nothing more than “concepts” that have no substance or entity. When we break free from these concepts, we come to see that the world is transitory, in a state of constant change. This liberation from concepts is what Yoda means when he tells Luke that “you must unlearn what you have learned.” The space between the X-wing and the shore may be just that… nothing but open space. However, therein flows the Force, and it is transitory in nature. That flow has no form, which is what Yoda admonishes Luke to realize. One must not look at the Force while still held captive to concepts. Luke eventually arrives at this truth and comes to understand that much like the sky that spreads overhead, the Force is equally expansive and unbound. This realization frees him from the shackles of concepts that had previously stifled his understanding.



Admittedly, it is difficult to ascertain whether Lucas himself infused this depth of meaning within this cosmic saga that he created. That said, new discoveries await those who change their vantage point when examining Star Wars. I believe this is a testament to the universality inherent within the Star Wars saga, and what makes repeat viewings of the films all the more worthwhile.





日本限定の最後のジェダイのチラシ "The Last Jedi" Japanese Theater Pamphlet



The release date for The Last Jedi (TLJ) is fast approaching, and with it a new pamphlet to promote the film has been distributed to theaters across Japan. These kind of pamphlets, which are printed on high quality B5 paper, represent a unique approach to advertising films here in Japan. The frontside is generally the same as the posters that are displayed about the theater, while the backside bears an overview of the film or an introdution to the characters. The "Ver. 1.0" pamphlet that was distributed early this summer garnered alot of attention from fans overseas, so I decided to whip up a simple translation for those interested to see what this one has to say. The translation is posted below the photo of the pamphlet's backside.



''光か、闇か (Hikari ka, Yami ka) The Light... or the Dark". The Japanese title for the film "最後のジェダイ (Saigo no Jedi)" can be seen in the middle of the Star Wars logo.



A Mind-blowing Chapter of the Star Wars Saga Unlike Any Ever Seen Is about to Unfold


The Force Awakens (TFA) set off a global sensation when it hit theaters, shattering box office records in the US. This winter the world will once again be brimming with fervor and excitement over the release of The Last Jedi (TLJ), the latest installment in the series. Picking up where TFA left off, TLJ adds a new chapter to the rich lore of the Star Wars saga.


The Jedi… Stewards expected to bring peace to the galaxy


Fear has swept across the galaxy with the rise of the First Order. Amidst this turmoil, two young powerful Force users have emerged. There is Rey, a girl all alone on distant world whose destiny was forever changed by a chance encounter with BB-8. She joins him and the Resistance, and in doing so awakens the Force within her. Then there is Kylo Ren, born of heroes of the Resistance. Turning his back on his parents, he decides to take up the mantle of Darth Vader. A startling fate awaits these two Force wielders, with each feeling the pull of both the Light and the Dark. Luke Skywalker, the legendary Jedi, has finally come out of hiding. What impact will his return have on the galaxy?


The man behind the camera for this mind-shattering tale of the Star Wars saga is Rian Johnson, one of Hollywood’s up-and-coming bright young directors. TLJ continues to follow the exploits of Rey, Kylo, and other characters introduced in TFA. It also adds a mysterious and captivating air to the figure of Luke Skywalker, the very soul of the saga who made his appearance in the final scene of Episode VII. In addition to these now familiar faces, TLJ introduces us to a new host of characters such as the porgs, an adorable species of birdlike creatures that have already won the hearts of many fans across the globe.


The Light… or the Dark… That is the decision that must be made when immeasurable power is obtained.