Armaggedon to Zen

 

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last swordZazen (Attention to the present moment)

by Alan Jackson

Yoshiro Takenada felt the August sun burning the back of his neck. He was uncomfortable. Sweat ran down his arms and stained the sleeves of his yukata. Normally at this time of day he would be in the shade, enjoying a cup of jasmine tea when he could afford one. This day was different, he was out in the burning afternoon sun and he was committed to a task that was none of his choosing. This fact amongst all others irritated him the most. If he had his way, he would be in the tea house now with a fine plump nakai-san soothing his brow and pouring his tea.

The sun had parched the earth for months now, and consequently the dust blew around him in fine clouds which stung the eyes and abraded the skin where it was exposed. The breeze brought the scent of a stand of bamboo which sat at the river's edge. That fecund odour of green growth and mature vegetation which spoke of summer in the countryside. It reminded him of the Edo fields he had grown up in, where he had chased the water buffalo and the farmer's daughters. The scent was a pleasant reminder that, beyond this disagreeable moment, the world lay open for the enjoyment of the senses.

Yoshiro shuffled his feet minutely. In his tabi the thong of his sandals was cutting slightly into one toe. Enough to take his concentration away from this effort of supreme meditation. He pondered on the wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita, which says, 'for him without concentration there is no peace,' and drew his thoughts away from this petty annoyance. Clarity of purpose was needed here today.

To help his focus, Yoshiro allowed his mind to dwell upon the quality of his grip upon his katana. The long sword was a centuries old masterpiece of the great craftsman Masamune. The handle of his katana was bound in tsuka ito wrappings of black silk cord, which covered a layer of hard rough same ray-skin, to give a better grip to the user's hand. Gold menuki in the shape of dragons give texture to the handle to aid placement of the fingers in a two handed grip. Yoshiro acknowledged all of these material sensations as he contemplated his grasp of his sword in the heat of the summer sun. More importantly, his mind meditated upon the extension of his arms which was the superb craftsman's wave edged o-midari hamon blade of the katana.

He had drawn the sword some moments ago. To a samurai iaido, the act of drawing the sword is 'the way of harmonising oneself in action' and the true iaidoka wields a sword not to control the opponent, but to control himself. He had not wished to draw a sword today, but circumstance and an irritating new acquaintance had dictated that he must.

He stood with arms raised above his head, blade poised and ready for a downward killing kesa giri diagonal cut. As he stood in the dusty heat of this village street, he realised his opponent had adopted the tsuki thrust stance. Yoshiro felt a deep abiding weariness, the outcome of this contest was decided before either drew their swords. He could only pity the man who stood in front of him in the afternoon heat, natural belligerence or an over-confident stupidity had brought this stranger to his death on such a bright summer day.

Yoshiro dispassionately watched his opponent's face as a bead of summer sweat ran down the man's cheek and dropped to the ground. He could not allow his concentration to be diluted by wondering who this wretch was, where he had come from, or why the fool had forced this confrontation. Yoshiro cleared all this clutter from his mind, and strove to achieve the height of Zen oneness with all his being. That moment of zazen, where the body and mind's whole attention was focused on just one single moment: that perfect moment when all his skills as a swordsman could be applied in the execution of this unwarranted duty..

A mosquito rose from the nearby bamboo, and circled Yoshiro's head, its high pitched buzzing whine in his ear making no impression on his rooted, sure-footed, stance. The mosquito, out in the full glare of the sunlight, away from its dark damp refuge in the bamboo roots, lights for a moment on the upraised tip of Yoshiro's sword blade. Yoshiro feels the singing vibration of the tense blade resonating to the beat of the insect's wing. As the creature alights to fly again, as if by its own volition, Yoshiro's blade slices forward and down.

The August afternoon sunlight picks out the brilliant crimson of the first drops of dark blood before they soak in and vanish in the dust of the street.

This is the moment. This is zazen.

 

*** End ***

 

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