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Old 09-11-2009, 10:47 PM   #27
Peter Goldsbury
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Dojo: Hiroshima Kokusai Dojo
Location: Hiroshima, Japan
Join Date: Jul 2001
Posts: 2,244
Re: Transmission, Inheritance, Emulation 15

Hello Don,

Well, even a glance at Odanao Sanae's theories, as explained by Steve Earle, convinces me that she is doing some very typically Japanese things with language. I have not read her writings in Japanese (like the writings of Baien Miura, they have succumbed to the law of the Survival of the Fittest in regard to unusual theories and are unread and unavailable). If I did, I might discover that she used far more puns than is evident even with Steve's explanations.

The typically Japanese thing she is doing is finding associations through homophones, to an extent that is impossible with an alphabet-based language like English. Homophones were also a problem in early Chinese, but the Chinese appear to have solved this problem--and kept to their principle of one meaning for each character--by adding radicals to distinguish the semantic element from the phonetic element. With alphabets, the semantic element has completely disappeared.

The great danger with Japanese discussions about language--and I have participated in such discussions hundreds of times, is that certain crucial distinctions are ignored. The crucial distinctions are between the graphic aspects of zodiographs, pictographs, ideographs and logographs (including their evolution, etymology, constituent parts and mnemonic devices for learning them), and their role as words in the language.

Why do such discussions take place? I think there are various reasons. Given the vast number of homophones, Japanese is rich in puns and such puns are a constant source of humor. The ability to use the language in such a way is taken to be a sure sign of literary culture. In addition, the educational system has constantly reminded Japanese of the unique features of their language and books on this uniqueness are still widely sold and read. R A Miller's disputes detailed in his book were with the Japanese education ministry--full of people who went through the top layers of Japan's elitist educational system. In England there are no best sellers on the Great Vowel Shift and few native speakers of my acquaintance know much about the etymology of the language. However, many Japanese of my acquaintance are constantly amazed not only that I can read their language but also can read characters that they themselves cannot. There is a common belief that this is not supposed to happen.

Kotodama is a thick layer of extremely rich icing on this linguistic cake. It takes all the common elements of homophone association and uniqueness and adds the spiritual aspects found in such activities as chinkon and kishin. One of the reasons for the first suppression of Omoto is that chinkon kishin became very widely used and Ayabe became awash with people in swoons and trances, all exhibiting signs of so-called spirit possession. Were they all pretending? Was Morihei Ueshiba pretending? Was Odano pretending when she had her vision of the kanji? I doubt it.

In this respect, a critical look at Ryuichi Abe's book on Kukai would be in order. I mean, a critical look at what Abe himself takes for granted about language and what Kukai did with it.

Finally, for those who do not know what 'kanjin-style interpretation' is, here is a quote from the work of Jacqueline Stone, mentioned by Don in his post.

"The kanjin-style interpretation mode found in many medieval kuden texts aims at retrieving hidden meanings held to embody the most profound insights of religious liberation. Such hidden meanings, it was thought, could be accessed only by those with enlightened insight and transmitted only to the properly initiated; they were not part of the common doctrinal understanding. This mode of interpretation has been characterized by modern scholars as undermining orthodox doctrinal understanding by encouraging the proliferation of arbitrary, private readings. ... It is often cited as evidence for an alleged decline of learning in medieval Tendai, and the term used for it in modern Japanese scholarship--kanjin-shugi (literally, "kanjin-ism") frequently carries pejorative overtones. In large measure, this dismissal may be traced to a profound epistemological gap that separates the way scholars read texts today from the way they were read by scholar-monks of the medieval period. Something very like the kanjin mode of interpretation still persists in certain quarters, for example, in the folk etymologies of new religious movements. Okada Kotama (1901-1974), founder of the new religion Sukyo Mahikari, placed great emphasis on what he termed "spiritual word studies" (kotodama-gaku); when he interpreted the word "scholarship" (gakumon) as really meaning "the suffering of self" (ga-kumon). or egotism, he was engaging in kanjin-style hermeneutics. But a long time has passed since scholars have deemed this a legitimate way to read texts; indeed the entire way of seeing the world that underlies and supports this mode of interpretation has become quite foreign to us." (Stone, Original Enlightenment and the Transformation of Medieval Japanese Buddhism, p. 156.)

Stone goes on to explain the principles underlying such kanjin-shugi hermeneutics in Tendai Buddhism. However, neither Stevens nor Gleason, in his new book, makes any attempt to bridge a similar gap in the explanations given of kotodama theory. Gleason simply acknowledges his debt to Odano Sanae and Koji Ogasawara, but leaves the principles of kototama gaku unexplained. Similarly with Morihei Ueshiba, who lifted it all from Shiho Yamaguchi and Onisaburo Deguchi.

Best wishes,


Don J. Modesto wrote: View Post

Again, many thanks for the rigorous look at aikido's history and pretensions. A question:

Do you think KOTOTAMA folk believe literally the stuff about sounds creating the universe and all the rest of the, or do you think they "playing" with the language in the manner of Einstein's "sit on a light beam" thought experiment or Crick's entwining snakes?

You have reproved me once or twice for my enthusiastic contempt for the writing of Stevens. I had a little epiphany, though, reading Grappard (et al.) on the "cubist" traditions of language play in mikkyo. As irritating as I found Stevens' TENCHI Jesus picture (Christian statuary in a similar pose to Osensei completing TENCHI NAGE in...The Philosophy of Aikido?), much of my rancor dissipated, at least in that instance, when I realized that he wasn't explaining so much as demonstrating (not sure if this was a conscious choice on his part).

That kind of "...therefore my cat is a dog" silliness was very much in the tradition (what Jacqueline Stone calls "KANJIN thought," IIRC). And if that's what it took to "unify mind and body" and the tantra-ists sought, good on them. No one anticipated finding cell-theory defying snakes actually hosting genes, right? It was UPAYA, as it were, expedient means.


Thanks again.

Last edited by Peter Goldsbury : 09-11-2009 at 10:49 PM.

P A Goldsbury
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