Friday, 13 October 2017

Hojo Tokimune - The Lions' Roar

Kamakura Period (the time of Hojo Tokimune
and the Mongol Invasions) kara shishi (courtesy
of the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The lion, of course, is not native to Japan, or anywhere in East Asia, come to that. The stories and imagery were brought along the Silk Road from western Asia, and preserved (principally) in the teachings of Buddhism.

It seems that the aspects of strength, courage and righteousness, in particular, came to be the defining aspects of the lion in Japan – similar, indeed, to how lions were viewed in the west. Rather than being associated chiefly with the ruling powers (eagles and tigers have that distinction) it kept its associations with Buddhism. There is some crossover, however. Most notable is the case of Hojo Tokimune, the defacto ruler of Japan at the time of the Mongol invasions.

Hojo Tokimune, depicted as a Zen Abbot
Tokimune was an early adherent and supporter of Zen - an influential one, given his position – despite the fact that he died quite young. On hearing of the second Mongol invasion, he went for an audience with his teacher, the Chinese priest Mugaku Sogen (posthumously awarded the title Bukko Kokushi).

'The hour of my trial is now at hand,' declared Tokimune.
'How will you respond?' replied Sogen, at which Tokimune replied with a mighty 'Katsu!' (the shout used in Rinzai Zen to demonstrate understanding, and also, if taken literally, the Japanese for victory or 'I will win'.
Sogen replied, 'It is true that the son of a lion roars as a lion.'

D.T. Suzuki says more about Tokimune, comparing him to Yunmen's golden haired lion, directing operations against the Mongol invasions from Kamakura, hundreds of miles from the action. He expresses his admiration for his ability as a leader during this time of crisis (which lasted over 10 years), and his ability to take upon his shoulders the responsibility for the whole country. This not only required great understanding, but also great application, and was a demonstration of his spirituality (whatever that is), as that is the characteristic that underlies understanding. Suzuki had a tendency to hagiography and was a tireless proselytizer for Zen – his writing was very much of his time, but it contains points of interest, too.
Manjusri riding the Golden-Haired Lion
(Muromachi period)

The golden-haired lion was an image used by Fazang, a patriarch of the Hua Yen school of Buddhism, to illustrate the relationship of form (a lion statue) to principle (the gold from which it is made). The lion's body is embodied in each hair - an infinity of infinities. Suzuki, as he often did, neglects to mention the origin, but relates it directly to Zen -Yunmen (J. Ummon) referred to the golden lion in one of his koans. (Fazang predated Yunmen by 200 years).

Suzuki's point, I suppose, is that Tokimune's complete awareness was present in each of his duties. To be realistic, it is worth pointing out that commentators have noted that Tokimune's role was probably much less vital than is often made out - several of his advisors played crucial roles, but we must give Suzuki credit here, as he was probably not aware of this.

More on Mugaku Sogen

An example of Sogen's calligraphy (Courtesy of Tokiwayama
Bunko Foundation)
Sogen was a man of parts, an accomplished calligrapher and painter, known for his courage and self-possession, which seems to have matched well with the spirit of the bushi.

He was 'head-hunted' from China after the first Mongol invasion, and it is quite possible that he was chosen as a result of the famous incident in which he outfaced the Mongols who came to his temple to slaughter the priests. He was found alone by a Mongol warrior. According to the story, he either composed a four line poem or calmly wrote it as the warrior stood, sword ready. Impressed, the warrior left him alone.
The poem has become quite well known, and the last line, 'A flash of lightning in the shadows, a sword cutting the spring wind' became associated with an indifference to death. Yamaoka Tesshu chose it as a name for his dojo, Shumpukan (shumpu is spring wind; kan is hall), and I have also seen it written on a flag of a kamikaze pilot - the historical connection being very appropriate, I suppose.
The poem in full goes:
  Throughout heaven and earth there is not a piece of ground where a single stick could be inserted;

  I am glad that all things are void, myself and the world:

  Honored be the sword, three feet long, wielded by the great Y√ľan swordsmen;
  For it is like cutting a spring breeze in a flash of lightning.

(It may be noted in passing that this was a reworking of a much earlier poem (c.414 C.E.) by Seng Chao, who composed the poem below while in jail, waiting for execution.
He was, indeed, executed:

The four elements essentially have no master.
The five shadows are fundamentally empty.
The naked sword will sever my head
as though cutting the spring breeze. 

This takes nothing away from Mugaku's work, as Chinese poetry was an art that made much use of borrowing from older works. Mugaku's poem was, in turn, used by the noted monk and poet Sesson Yubai as the basis for a poem when he found himself in extremis.

Tokimune was particularly concerned with the question of fear, and Sogen set him the question 'Where is my fear located?' as a koan. His response, as Sogen indicated may be seen as a kind of 'Lion's Roar', a term which goes back to the very origins of Buddhism, denoting the truth of the teachings of the Buddha and his disciples. Sogen was to use the image of the roaring lion again in his death poem:

A lion appears before ten billion ignorant fools
The lion roars before the ten billion ignorant fools

Torei Enti
Hossu with the
verse mentioned

Once again, this provided fodder for at least one later poet, the monk Torei Enji (1721-1792), a pupil of Hakuin. His rather witty take was this:

A million ignorant fools
A million lions appear 

But of all Sogens's verse, I like the following best:

The bow is shattered; the arrows are all gone.
At this critical moment 
Cast aside all doubt.
Shoot without the slightest delay.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Fantastic Beast - Rosetsu's Kara-shishi

Nagasawa Rosetsu (1754-1799)(?)

The shishi (or karashishi), the lion of Japanese art, is a mysterious beast. It is half mythological, often brightly coloured – typically blue or green – and has deep associations with Buddhism and Shinto. The guardians on either side of shrine entrances are normally shishi, or sometimes a shishi paired with a koma-inu (Korean dog or lion dog). In this case, the koma-inu will have its mouth closed and also sports a single, unicorn-like horn. The koma-inu looks quite leonine, and there is not much to tell between the two, probably because they evolved from the statues of lions in front of Buddhist temples in India, a custom which arrived in Japan and was transferred to shrines.

In Buddhism, they have the connotation of justice, and the strength to see that justice is done. They are also protectors of the Buddhist law. Their anger is proverbial, and I have seen the term shishi fundo (lion's rage) equated with techniques in budo that particularly utilise force and ferocity. As a motif, it was utilise by the Kano school most notably Kano Eitoku and later Kano Sanraku, to underline the majesty of their patrons. Unlike the tiger, however, which had whole rooms devoted to it in several decorative schemes, (Nijo Castle, Manshu-in, Nanzen-ji, Nagoya Castle, to name a few) I am not aware of any similar schemes involving shishi.

Kano Eitoku (1543-1590)'s lordly shishi

Their depiction was generally quite stylised, and rather than ferocity, typical depictions appear playful, as in these paintings by Kano Tanshin (the son of Kano Tanyu) and Hokusai.

This work by Nagasawa Rosetsu is quite another thing.

The writer Maruyama Kenji in a column in the Nikkei Shinbun newspaper (Jan. 22 2016) was also struck by it. He had this to say:

This should not be. Although you thought you had renounced your showy displays of anger, in the light of the full moon your dark and ferocious glare shows your confusion. After such total dedication, you did not abandon yourself to quiet madness or lose yourself in painful struggle – that it’s not a look of barbaric rashness or cold anger is proof of this. In the chaos of a society returned to ruin, your eyes shine with the light of justice, to see right done by whatever means possible, even at the cost of your life. Showing your determination to save those who had no choice in their upbringing, cowed by the threats that hung over them, you symbolise readiness to confront an old enemy on behalf of individual freedom. That is the kind of look it is. If not, your glance would not strike home in the breasts of those who have lapsed from mere vulgarity, attracted by the charm of appearances, and whose minds are now poisoned by hedonism. Forceful and revitalising, filled with the power to return to life, showing the supreme authority that lies only within yourself – a look that is open and true.
(my translation)

The broad, fierce brushstrokes depict the furious intensity of the beast very differently from how it is usually shown. It is also quite different from anything else of of Rosetsu's. I was surprised to learn that it was his when I first saw it, and only found out as I was writing this that there is some doubt as to whether it was actually painted by him (see here for more) – the gold leaf was certainly a later addition (Rosetsu's teacher, Maruyama Okyo had some works that suffered similarly) and the signature has been added at a later date (over the gold leaf and an original signature). Particularly unusual is the strength of emotion in the work, something that obviously struck Maruyama Kenji. Comparing it with Eitoku's work (above) it is almost exactly the same pose as the left-hand shishi – it is interesting to think that it may be a direct reworking from that original model. It would be nice to think it was genuine, but even if not, it is an impressive work, and painting it may have given the artist the means to enthuse his work with greater feeling than a more traditional rendering would have allowed.