“Like A Shiny Blue Sky”

Poster of Toshiro Mifune as Musashi in 1955 film, "Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple."

Miyamoto Musashi was a masterless samurai (ronin) who lived in Japan in the 1600’s. An accomplished swordsman, he is said to have engaged in over sixty duels without suffering defeat once. I’ve blogged before about his text, Go Rin No Sho (“Book of Five Rings”), a book on strategy, leadership, and philosophy still studied today. This is Victor Harris’ translation of the final chapter in the book.

Ku No Maki

The Book of the Void

The Ni To Ichi (“Two heavens, two swords as one”) Way of strategy is recorded in this the Book of the Void.

What is called the spirit of the void is where there is nothing. It is not included in man’s knowledge. Of course, the void is nothingness. By knowing things that exist, you can know that which does not exist. That is the void.

People in this world look at things mistakenly, and think that what they do not understand must be the void. This is not the true void. It is bewilderment.

In the Way of strategy, also, those who study as warriors think that whatever they cannot understand in their craft is the void. This is not the true void.

To attain the Way of strategy as a warrior you must study fully other martial arts and not deviate even a little from the Way of the warrior. With your spirit settled, accumulate practice day by day, and hour by hour. Polish the twofold spirit heart and mind, and sharpen the twofold gaze perception and sight. When your spirit is not in the least clouded, when the clouds of bewilderment clear away, there is the true void.

Until you realize the true Way, whether in Buddhism or in common sense, you may think that things are correct and in order. However, if we look at things objectively, from the viewpoint of laws of the world, we see various doctrines departing from the true Way. Know well this spirit, and with forthrightness as the foundation and the true spirit as the Way. Enact strategy broadly, correctly and openly.

Then you will come to think of things in a wide sense and, taking the void as the Way, you will see the Way as void.

In the void is virtue, and no evil. Wisdom has existence, principle has existence, the Way has existence, spirit is nothingness.

To Teruo Magonojo

Twelfth day of the fifth month, second year of Shoho (1645)

From Shinmen Musashi

This is good guidance for Buddhists, or anyone on a spiritual path, as well as for warriors.

Naturally, when Musashi says, “ku is nothingness,” he does not mean it literally. Hidy Ochiai’s translation reads, “Ku is the realm of matters beyond ordinary human understanding.”

In his analysis, Ochiai writes,

The world of Ku is where one can truly know and feel what exists and what doesn’t. One knows and understands all and yet is not attached to knowledge. One is not even attached to oneself, therefore he is free in the truest sense of the word. In the world of Ku, one becomes harmonious with the universe to the extent that the self feels at one with it. According to Musashi, the realm of Ku can be reached though a complete understanding and absorption of the Way of martial strategy. One’s state of mind in the world of Ku is like a shiny blue sky which has no clouds – free from doubt and confusion.”

Ku is the Japanese translation of the Chinese kung, which in turn is a translation of the Sanskrit word sunyata or “emptiness.” Another meaning of ku is “sky.”

In Mahayana Buddhism, ku or emptiness is synonymous with “wisdom.” Dogen, in his commentary on the Heart Sutra says, “To, ‘learn what Wisdom is’ means ‘to be free of preconceptions’.”

One’s mind must be clear to be free from preconceptions. Doubt, fear, confusion – all stem from our preconceptions because there really is nothing to doubt, or be fearful about, or confused over. We just think there is, and so, when we see things clearly, when we wipe away the clouds of our preconceptions, our mind becomes “like a shiny blue sky.”

As Shunryu Suzuki says in Zen Mind, Beginners Mind, “A mind full of preconceived ideas, subjective intentions, or habits is not open to things as they are. That is why we practice [meditation]; to clear our mind of what is related to something else.”

A Japanese monk named Tonna (1289-1372) wrote this poem based on the theme of “Color is no different from sky; the sky is no different from color,” from the Heart Sutra:

Clouds disappear
And the sky clears to deep blue,
But as I gaze up,
That color, too, in a while
Has faded into emptiness.”


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