The Lost Chance, the Scroll of Emptiness

I am really liking my new book of Japanese stories, Legends of Japan, which is described in more detail in my post of last week. This week I will share a story which I believe can be seen to have application to our practice of martial arts, called “The Lost Chance.”

Then I will share from the Scroll of Emptiness, the fifth of the five scrolls that are The Book Of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi.

“The Lost Chance”

Long, long ago, there lived in Kyoto a Buddhist priest who could use magic. For example, he could, with a yell, turn a worn out straw sandal into a puppy, or he could plunge into the stomach of a horse and come out laughing.

Next door to his temple, there lived a young man who was very envious of the priest’s magical power and anxious to learn it. He often asked the priest to teach him magic, but the priest just smiled off his request. Nevertheless, the young man was too zealous to give up his desire. At last the priest yielded to his entreaties and said, “All right, I will teach you the magic. But in learning it, you have to do several things. First of all, starting today you must purify yourself for a week. Then, make a pail and fill it with red boiled rice. After that, you…” the priest, suspiciously looking about, whispered in the young man’s ear, “come with me. I will take you to my old teacher of magic.”

Now, the young man was very happy. He immediately set to work, purifying himself, making a wooden pail, and filling it with red boiled rice. The day at last came when he was to be taken to the teacher of magic. The priest came by his house, and said, “You must not carry cutlery with you. Its possession is prohibited in learning magic. If you should carry even a small edged tool, your earnest hope would be shattered. Remember that.”

“All right. I never will carry any kind of knife as you say,” he pledged, “and whatever unreasonable demands the teacher of magic should make of me, I would be happy to meet them if he really teaches me magic. This is quite a simple request.” The young man, however, on reflection felt uneasy that if danger should arise, he would be helpless without a weapon. He therefore had a dagger concealed in his clothes and, pretending it wasn’t there, set out together with the priest before day- break.

He followed the priest, carrying the red rice- filled pail on his shoulder, sometimes touching the concealed dagger. The road ran toward a mountain. They went a long way. About noon they reached a fine Buddhist temple at last.

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“Wait here,” said the priest, and he alone went into the temple. Here in the temple compound, the priest squatted down by the hedge and cleared his throat. Perhaps it was a signal. Presently the door of a temple hall opened from inside and an old priest, popping out a solemn face, asked, “who is it?”

“It is me, Master,” replied the young priest, still keeping himself low.

“Oh, is that you? Come in. I am very pleased to see you after such a long time. What has brought you here today?”

“Well, Master, it is about my neighbor,” replied the young priest, “who is very anxious to learn magic from you.”

“Is that so? Where is he?”

Whereupon the younger priest called in the man and presented him to the aged priest. The aspirant humbly offered the pail of red boiled rice to the teacher of magic, who gazed at him.

“Come out, all of you!” the old priest suddenly called in a thunderous voice. “This fellow here appears to have a dagger. Take it from him!”

At that, several acolytes came over to the young man. “Damn bonze! He has seen through me,” the young man cursed. He thought that should the acolytes examine him they would surely find the dagger; and if so, they would surely beat him to death. He therefore made up his mind to kill the old priest to bear him company to the nether world. Once he determined to do that, he rallied his strength. No sooner had he drawn the dagger and jumped at the priest when the fine temple structure came down with a thunderous roar. And lo! The next moment the aged priest and the fallen structure vanished like smoke. He felt as if he were in a dream.

When he came to his senses, he found himself standing by the young priest in the hall of an old temple. In speechless wonder, he kept standing there for a moment. “Tut!” the priest grumbled, “What a thing you have done!” He disdainfully went on, “You have made the old teacher angry and ruined everything- you have even deprived me of my magical power.”

With that, he tramped out. When the young man came out of the temple, he was surprised to find it to be a temple near his house. Why the long journey from dawn to noon? From that time, he never saw the priest again. The young man thus lost forever a chance of learning magic.

The Scroll of Emptiness

In writing about the science of martial arts of the individual school of Two Swords in the Scroll of Emptiness, the meaning of emptiness is that the realm where nothing exists, or cannot be known, is seen and empty. Of course, emptiness does not exist. Knowing of nonexistence while knowing of existence is emptiness. Wrongly viewed among people of the world, not understanding anything is itself considered emptiness. This is not real emptiness; it is all delusion. In the context of this science of martial arts as well, in carrying out the way as a warrior, not knowing the laws of warriors is not emptiness; being confused, one may call a state of helplessness emptiness, but this is not real emptiness. Warriors learn military science accurately and go on to practice the techniques of martial arts diligently. The way that is practiced by warriors is not obscure in the least. Without any confusion in mind, without slacking off at any time, polishing the mind and attention, sharpening the eye that observes and the eye that sees, one should know real emptiness as the state where there is no obscurity and the clouds of confusion have cleared away. As long as they do not know the real Way, whether in Buddhism or in worldly matters, everybody may think their path is sure and is a good thing, but from the point of view of the straight way of mind, seen in juxtaposition with overall social standards, they turn away from the true Way by the personal biases in their minds and the individual warps in their vision. Knowing that mentality, taking straightforwardness as basic, taking the real mind as the Way, practicing martial arts in the broadest sense, thinking correctly, clearly, and comprehensively, taking emptiness as the Way, you see the Way as emptiness. In emptiness there is good but no evil. Wisdom exists, logic exists, the Way exists, mind is empty.

-Miyamoto Musashi, May 12 1645

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