Peter A Goldsbury
The dozen years between 1930 and 1942 marked O Sensei's closest association with the Japanese military and I think there are some very serious issues relating to this association.
If you look at Page 31 of the edition of Budo (1938) translated :by John Stevens, " ... "The appearance of an 'enemy' should be thought of as an opportunity to test the sincerity of one's mental and physical training, to see if one is actually responding to the divine will... Enter deeply, mentally as well as physically, transform your entire body into a true sword, and vanquish your foe. This is yamato-damashii, the principle behind the divine sword that manifests the soul of our nation."
On Page 71, Prof Stevens adds a footnote about yamato-damashii:
"yamato-damashii: the spirit of ancient Japan. Nowadays best interpreted as the manifestation of all that is good and true in human nature."
I still find this explanation quite staggering. It might well be true, but it has to be understood in a clear political context.
... Larry and Seiko Bieri translated the introduction of Budo Renshu, which was written a few years earlier (in 1933).
"When this is mastered (striking and being struck, accomplished by means of kokyu), wisdom, benevolence and courage spring naturally from within you and make the one true yamato-damashii...
"Speaking on a large scale, we defend the whole nation and on a small scale our own body. Ultimately it is the exercising and perfecting of yamato-damashii. It is the same as the ceremonial Opening of the Great Stone Door."
There is a note explaining the significance of the ceremonial 'Opening of the Great Stone Door'.
However, the Bieris, also, really do not put the text into any contemporary context.
There is context -- and there is context. It is an easy temptation to take superficial context and use it as some broad form of shellac tinting any actor in a whole era in the same tone. By no means is this evident in what you are doing, but it is a point I see reflected in many comments and other takes on the subject matter, as discussed here and in articles on Aikido Journal. Even in Japan people are still individuals. If this were not so then the necessity of tatemae
would not exist.
It would be as if, taking contemporary American politics as an example, saying that since Allen Dershowitz strongly and vocally supports the wartime interrogations and detention of unlawful combatants (who are not explicitly protected under the Geneva convention) that he is an avowed opponent of civil liberties, which, of course, could not be further from the truth. Some comparables in this country that are involved in similar contest of definitional (or applicational) debates at the present time would be the various readings of "patriotism" or "American ideals" or "equality." It is too easy to assume that one side of such a debate comprises the entirety of the body of thought on concepts of this nature. There is much that I find in some of the commentators on the "context" regarding O Sensei, that tends to fall into this trope.
The living ambiguity in the sword metaphor of yamato-damashii
and the historical associations of Morihei Ueshiba lies in its interpretation as katsujinken
. Not to take cross-cultural liberty, but O Sensei already did by explicitly identifying kotodama to the western Divine Logos. "I come, not to bring peace, but a sword.,.. " has context here also.
I hope that in these continued (and much valued) efforts) the very real and serious points of distinction that Morihei Ueshiba had in his idiosyncratic readings of Kojiki, and more importantly his application
of those ideas and their meanings in light of the sometime ideological push-pull on concepts like yamato-damashii
will be highlighted or contrasted as well as discussed in parallel. These tensions are played out in the Kokugaku
development that informed the contemporary understanding of yamato-damashii
in Norinaga's own writing on Naobi
, as well as Atsutane's distinctive approach to those issues (undermining the established political order with calls for popular-imperial piety) as opposed to the political uses it was later put -- (to aggrandize a new order.) Ideological rhetoric aside, neither history nor personal moral development follow commutative principles.
While the Meiji Imperial Rescript on education, which sets forth that the "imperial way" is "infallible in all ages and true in all places", is an application of the Kokugaku ideas discussed in Naobi no Mitama
, that application of those ideas is in deep tension with Norinaga's equal commitment to a particularized and developmental understanding of truth (mirrored by the mythological progression of Kojiki
) in his discussion of Magatsubi no Kami
and the problem of evil (which he deemed universal in action) and the resulting complexities of understanding moral purpose and effect.
The resolution of those tensions for Norinaga necessarily occurred in an actual, personified deity and a filial commitment by the subject to the will of the god. Christian thought is not different in this regard, merely different in the Person of Deity in which the resolution necessarily occurs. There is context there too, because for all the political antipathy to Christian teaching, the glosses in which its influence is keenly felt (Atsutane, esp. ) (and perhaps even in Kojiki itself (the creation trinity kami of "becoming" (naru) vice the remainder which were "born" (umareru)). Never mind Ueshiba's explicitly drawn connection to the Logos; it is not without venerable antecedent.
A Westerner may profitably assess in consideration of such things the personal
nature of both good and evil in the Divine Plan, in the context of the study of budo and what it represents, in the context of his own tradition, and in the teachings of Shinto tradition generally, and of O Sensei's take on it particularly -- and in his personal history of dealing with real problems of evil in his lifetime.
In context -- not every German was a SS man who personally participated in evil -- nor on the other side, a member of the White Rose, nor yet Deitrich Bonhoeffer who insistently and publicly opposed evil to their deaths -- but some were Admiral Canaris, or Col. von Stauffenberg whose very moral roles required
their continued association with objective evils while pursuing, as best they could, ulterior moral ends. It seems to me this is in the nature of Budo.