The Taste of Banzo’s sword
Matajuro Yagyu was the son of a famous swordsman. His father, believing that his son’s work was too mediocre to anticipate mastership, disowned him.
So Matajuro went to Mount Futara and there found the famous swordsman Banzo. But Banzo confirmed the father’s judgment. “You wish to learn swordsmanship under my guidance?” asked Banzo. “You cannot fulfill the requirements.”
“But if I work hard, how many years will it take me to become a master?” persisted the youth.
“The rest of your life,” replied Banzo.
“I cannot wait that long,” explained Matajuro. “I am willing to pass through any hardship if only you will teach me. If I become your devoted servant, how long might it be?”
“Oh, maybe ten years,” Banzo relented.
“My father is getting old, and soon I must take care of him,” continued Matajuro. “If I work far more intensively, how long would it take me?”
“Oh, maybe thirty years,” said Banzo.
“Why is that?” asked Matajuro. “First you say ten and now thirty years. I will undergo any hardship to master this art in the shortest time!”
“Well,” said Banzo, “in that case you will have to remain with me for seventy years. A man in such a hurry as you are to get results seldom learns quickly.”
“Very well,” declared the youth, understanding at last that he was being rebuked for impatience, “I agree.”
Matajuro was told never to speak of fencing and never to touch a sword. He cooked for his master, washed the dishes, made his bed, cleaned the yard, cared for the garden, all without a word of swordsmanship.
Three years passed. Still Matajuro labored on. Thinking of his future, he was sad. He had not even begun to learn the art to which he had devoted his life.
But one day Banzo crept up behind him and gave him a terrific blow with a wooden sword.
The following day, when Matajuro was cooking rice, Banzo again sprang upon him unexpectedly.
After that, day and night, Matajuro had to defend himself from unexpected thrusts. Not a moment passed in any day that he did not have to think of the taste of Banzo’s sword.
He learned so rapidly he brought smiles to the face of his master. Matajuro became the greatest swordsman in the land.
The key to enlightenment is to forget about enlightenment. Enlightenment is enlightenment’s biggest hurdle. One can cross all the hurdles, but this is the hurdle of hurdle. That is why in some traditions specially bhakti traditions and Sufis do not talk much about enlightenment; they talk about love, getting drunk, etc.
You cannot get something which you already have. To add to this ignorance, you try to get the thing you posses quickly then it shows more of your ignorance. You may believe you are moving towards your goal, in reality you are getting far, far away from that. No doubt you are going fast, but while taking off you just took the wrong direction; not just the wrong direction, it is better to say the opposite direction.
The whole point is to become ego less, to become empty. With your impatience you are doing just the reverse. With the hurry to kill itself, ego is sustaining itself. Impatience brings time, patience can take one beyond time.
Even ego is part of that Supreme existence. Nothing that belongs to that existence wants to die. They can just merge, only the form can change. If you believe that ego is going towards its death then beware, it cannot and so it would not. Ego is a built on false hoods, so even this hurry to annihilate itself is also its disguise. When you give up all the efforts, then obviously there is no hurry, then you might directly see the light there and then itself.
You cannot reach Truth quickly, because ‘you’ is a problem and the only problem. There is no quick solution to this; there is only instant solution to it, to realize that Truth only is; you are not. That will lead to merging to false ego.
Narada as usual was traveling. Once when passing through the forest he saw a man meditating. White ants had built a huge mound around him. He told Narada, “Ask God when I shall have freedom.” As Narada was moving ahead he found another man. This man was singing, dancing, jumping around. He also told Narada, “Ask God when I shall have freedom.”
Narada returned from heaven after some time. He was again passing through the same forest. There he saw the meditating man. The man asked, “Narada, did you asked God about when will I get freedom?” Narada said, “Yes, God told that you will attain freedom in four more births.” This saddened the man. He wept “I have been meditating till ant mound has come around me and still I will take four more births!” Then Narada came across the singing, dancing man. Narada told him, “Do you see this tamarind tree. As many leaves are there on this tree so many more births you will take. Thereafter you would attain freedom.” The joyous man became even more joyous. He said, “I shall attain freedom in this much short period, wow!” A voice came from above, “My dear, you are free right away.”
Only the one who is ready to wait long can have the results fastest. Perseverance is needed.
His father, believing that his son’s work was too mediocre to anticipate mastership, disowned him…..
Swordsmanship in Zen monasteries is a work of meditation. It is not to fight. At best it is for self defense. But most importantly it is a way of meditation. It is to develop harmony between body and mind, the harmony that comes from beyond body and mind. Spiritual truths should lead to meditation, Zen.
But the meditation that is not part of daily activities is no meditation. To bring Zen to daily life arts like swordsmanship are invented. They are arts; they are play having some rules as any other play. But other plays only have external rules, here since inner silence is to be brought out, the development of the inner silence is very important and so the rules related to development of inner silence are not that straight forward that can be simply communicated. Those teachings related to inner development need to be grasped intuitively. This grasping require certain quality, certain preparedness of the student spiritually, and that is why the importance of these plays.
One cannot approach these plays as other worldly plays, with the intention to conquer, with the intention to be best. The drawback of using the sports like this for inner development is that if the player approaches these sports like any other to win then in the same victory itself there would be defeat of the purpose of the sport. So there are inbuilt checks that are part of these sports that one cannot excel unless one really grasps the fundamentals, the purpose of these sports and feels established in the spirituality.
The sports developed in olden days had all various purposes from recreation to physical fitness to self defense to alertness to show the relevance of luck and accept it. Some sports were specifically designed to awaken the inner wisdom.
In industrial age sports have also become industrialized. They have lost their simplicity and have become more aggressive, win centric rather than play centric. In olden days sword fighters, samurai’s where players. Nowadays we find players as fighters. For Samurai’s battlefield was actually playfield and they would follow the rules diligently, even if life was at stake. Nowadays playfields have been converted into battlefield, though at stake is not life, but something that has overshadowed life itself, that is ego is at stake and so it becomes a battlefield.
Since these sports are for development of inner wisdom, externally physical fathers cannot pass it hereditarily. His father was a famous swordsman himself, so he knew what that sport means. How it can be passed? Who can be fit enough to get it? Spiritual wisdom is anti me-mine. Then how come spiritual wisdom be passed to this ‘my’ son? In fact all skills in olden days used to have something related to spiritual upliftment also. It was not merely for making a living. So these skills cannot be passed hereditarily.
One should have natural inclination towards a particular skill or few such skills. Then one learns them. They should not learn them because their father is master of those skills. The skillful elders also should impart them to only those who fulfill the requirements, have natural aptitude required for those skills. They are their real children.
An ordinary society is just a addition of ordinary individuals who cannot think beyond me-mine. By not teaching his incapable biological son, this swordsman has shown why he was famous; he should have been a real master. This is no sacrifice. This is smartness. First of all this son is really incapable. Secondly, one should not be forced to be in some field due to any reason like one’s father belongs to that field. Thirdly, if everyone starts to give education only to their real inclined, capable students and not just to the biological children then it would be better for all the children. Because your child to whom you would not have taught would go to someone else for learning some other skill for which they have aptitude from someone else.
To follow your natural inclination is your real dharma. Gita says this dharma should be followed even at the cost of one’s death. Because life is really meaningless in following the footsteps of only your biological parents if you really have no interest in those activities and you are doing just to satisfy them or to make you life easy. To follow one’s real interest one should know one’s real interest first. That is the main function of education to make a child realize one’s real dharma. Then strengthen the child to follow that dharma. To have artha and kama by following such dharma leads to real moksha.
Sometimes one’s own father cannot teach. They require some other teacher, especially, when these techniques like hitting are involved. In this age someone may file a case of house violence and atrocity!
If the student does not agree with the assessment of their teacher to not teach them then they are free to go to another teacher. That is what Matajuro did.
Banzo said, “You cannot fulfill the requirements”…..
Swordsmanship is a risky sport. One can die if one is unaware. One should have some quality of awareness already to learn this. One cannot become aware suddenly. Matajuro’s awareness was on learning swordsmanship and not on awareness itself; awareness of daily routine life. That is why his father and now Banzo is refusing to teach him.
It is for Matajuro to find out what are those requirements that he is not fulfilling. If he is really willing to learn then he would ask. But Zen masters are Zen masters. They would make even this a koan, they would want the student to find out themselves. Really there is no other way to make one realize this requirement of awareness. Unless one becomes aware how come one realizes what it means to be aware?
Through words only an unclear picture would come. If one believes such hazy picture then one will never really know the reality. To know really this requirement is to become capable of fulfilling this requirement. So out of love Zen masters would let the willing student find out the real requirement.
The real requirement is to know the purpose of this sport, the real requirement being to know the ultimate sport going on. To understand the ultimate sport is the requirement as well as final destination.
You would remember the story of tortoise and rabbit. The tortoise ultimately won. Slow and steady wins! The rabbit was not able to fulfill that requirement because of his intense desire to win and that too in a shorter duration. In spite of having all the external requirements the rabbit was not fulfilling the requirement of unattached perseverance for work.
But if I work hard, how many years will it take me to become a master?
He wants to become a master and that too wants to work hard for that! This becoming is the real issue. What he cannot become still can be, that is a matter of discovery. He has to find the mastership within. It cannot be found out without. If one goes to search without then one is taking wrong direction. To top it one is going to go faster with hard work in the wrong direction.
If this much ignorance was not enough he is asking about how many years; that he is going to try hard to find something over a period of time. He wants to carry himself to some future destination. The destination if reached then he should not be present because his absence is the presence of that destination. Such a destination can never be reached in time. Time makes that ultimate destination all the more impossible because time implies one does not understand the need for one’s absence.
“The rest of your life,” replied Banzo……
You need to find some rest in your life. This too much talk about ambition, hard work, and impatience is itself killing one instead of helping one. It’s like riding on the back of a crocodile to cross the ocean of misery. You need to give some rest to your life.
Matajuro can find his destination only when he gives himself fully. When one has given oneself fully one is no longer working. It is life that is carrying that person then. Giving rest to oneself here does not mean not doing anything. We are habituated to take things in extremes. So if Matajuro is trying to work very hard we would feel that Banzo is telling him not to work. Restfully work is the skill Banzo is referring.
How long? For the rest of your life. To forget the old egoistic lifestyle completely. Full immersion. There is no ‘may be’ if Matajuro is ready to give himself fully. If he is ready to put his life at stake then there is no may be in finding what one is looking for.
“I cannot wait that long,” explained Matajuro. “I am willing to pass through any hardship if only you will teach me. If I become your devoted servant, how long might it be?”……
Matajuro is missing Banzo. That’s why he is saying he cannot wait that long. There is absolutely no waiting in what Banzo is saying. Banzo did not give a timeframe, did not say ‘may be’, but Matajuro is impatience. In his impatience he is not following what Banzo is saying.
This is why the teachers believed that this student is not fulfilling the requirements. For other disciplines Matajuro is a perfect student, but for spirituality he would be a catastrophe, so much so that it would be better if he be not taught.
“I am willing to pass through any hardship if only you will teach me”. It is not his hardships but his intelligence is called for here.
If I become your devoted servant, how long might it be?”…..
He would have seen students doing devoted service to their masters. That is why he is offering this. But there are questions in his mind still. That is, how long? If there is real longing, then there is no question of how long.
“Oh, maybe ten years,” Banzo relented….
One thing is certain Matajuro wants to learn. This is making Banzo relent. He is ready to consider him as a student in the hope that may be some day he would understand the real requirement.
These ten years is just symbolic to say to Matajuro that it might take long. So long that he might even forget for which he was staying with Banzo. This is what Banzo wants. He wants Matajuro to forget about fencing because his ego is tied with learning that fencing. One he forgets fencing, he may forget about his ego in day to day activities and then real learning can happen.
“My father is getting old, and soon I must take care of him,” continued Matajuro….
His intentions are genuine. But good intentions do not work in spirituality. It is not the opposite also that one should not have good intentions. But just being do-gooders, helpers of society do not really get the real crux of spirituality.
“If I work far more intensively, how long would it take me?”….
More hard work; more efforts; more aggression to achieve the goal in shortest period possible – sounds like a story of any modern youth in rat race of today’s world.
“Oh, maybe thirty years,” said Banzo….
That rat race may work in achieving worldly goals, but Banzo here wants to make Matajuro understand the basic folly of his. He wants him to understand that this is totally different from any worldly learning, this is not one more sport to be mastered, this is spirituality. Here everything moves opposite to worldliness.
If Matajuro would have contemplated on this answer then also he would have learned a lot. Even in refusing to teach Banzo is continuously teaching. Real teachers keep teaching whether one realizes or not.
“Why is that?” asked Matajuro. “First you say ten and now thirty years. I will undergo any hardship to master this art in the shortest time!”…
Poor Matajuro is still not getting it. This poverty is within us also. He understood that this strange. But he is not trying to understand why Banzo is saying such strange things. His impatience is taking hold of him. These are the blunders of youth which most people commit during that age. He is still concerned with time only.
“Well,” said Banzo, “in that case you will have to remain with me for seventy years. A man in such a hurry as you are to get results seldom learns quickly.”….
There is no doubt in that case. You will have to remain for seventy years, meaning really for the rest of your life and then too there would not be any guarantee. But now Banzo is having pity on Matajuro and is explaining him the real meaning behind this years game that is being played here.
Matajuro was told never to speak of fencing and never to touch a sword. He cooked for his master, washed the dishes, made his bed, cleaned the yard, cared for the garden, all without a word of swordsmanship….
He is made to forget about his obsession with the intent that may be his ego will become pliable enough for further push. To make him forget this obsession something else needs to be given which does not become his obsession. That is why daily routine activities are so essential for spiritual aspirants. They should not consider them as a hindrance to learning and meditation.
Ultimately the teaching has to reflect in the daily activities after all. To engage in these activities is preparing oneself as well it proves to be a test also to see how further one has progressed. Also it indirectly gives the understanding that spirituality is not anti-life and ultimately daily routine is not so bad after all.
Thinking of his future, he was sad….
If one thinks about the future too much then one will miss the present. Then one would be sad, no two doubts about that.
He had not even begun to learn the art to which he had devoted his life.
If one remains with thoughts of future then one cannot begin. Every moment is a new beginning. If he would have contemplated on his impatience, ambitions, futility of thinking of future, etc. then real work of learning would have already begin. But that was not happening. So Banzo had to do something which Zen masters are known for.
But one day Banzo crept up behind him and gave him a terrific blow with a wooden sword.
There is no guarantee of this madman. If he is using wooden sword today, tomorrow he may use the real one too.
Unreal sword killed unreal ego. Fear of death was constant in him. That constant-ness removed ultimately the fear also, death became friend. Why not embrace friend, no harm, after all it is so fulfilling and you are not going to die. Not going to die if one embraces death! One realizes one’s deathlessness, one’s real nature which is so grand that it cannot win anything more, cannot achieve anything more
Ego is continuously defending itself. That’s why it does not like unexpected things much. Reality is full of unexpected things, full of surprises, but ego wants everything understood, it does not want to see anything beyond it. It is like a frog in the well which would not like to even hear a hint of ocean.
But if this defense has to be continuously applied then some day it retires out, it gives up. In its laying down the arms is the real victory; the real victory of the Guru without and within
When one is free from accumulating knowledge then learning, the real knowledge takes place continuously.
The following day, when Matajuro was cooking rice, Banzo again sprang upon him unexpectedly.
You cannot cook rice. Who are you to cook rice? Once necessary things are arranged cooking happens. One can naturally start brooding in that time. Suddenly the attack comes at that time.
Like rice is getting cooked on its own, similarly life is happening. You are not making it happen, nobody is making it happen. Nobody is somebody. Everybody is nobody. You just have to be aware of whatever is happening.
Cooking is happening. If you are not aware then this jolt is given to make you aware, so that you remain aware of every happening.
After that, day and night, Matajuro had to defend himself from unexpected thrusts.
Ego is invisible. But its effect is continuously cutting us into pieces. The sword of Banzo is hitting our body to show us the effect of ego.
One has to continuously defend from the unexpected thrusts of this ego.
Not a moment passed in any day that he did not have to think of the taste of Banzo’s sword.
Zen, meditation is not an hour phenomenon and then rest of the time you remain unaware. Then it would be like you remove one bucket of dirt from the hall and put 10 buckets. At the end of the day you might feel as if you are a spiritual person and are cleaning everyday some dirt. Actually it is getting accumulated even more.
You cannot clean it once and rest. Continuous non-accumulation of the dirt is Zen. So much so that it becomes your second nature. You cannot clear dirt all the time unless you stop the dirt to come. That’s when meditation stabilizes.
He learned so rapidly he brought smiles to the face of his master.
He learned so rapidly he brought smiles to the face of his master. Not learning fencing. Banzo was not teaching him fencing. That was just the excuse. The purpose of the sport is to use it as a excuse. He was learning the real game behind the game of fencing.
You cannot defeat someone who does not want to win, who is simply playing, enjoying. To defeat someone is to nullify their purpose of playing. But if one’s purpose of play is play itself then how to defeat them. Externally yes one is passionately playing to win, but knowing well that one can neither win nor loose and cannot defeat anyone. This is when play becomes really a play.
Matajuro became the greatest swordsman in the land.….
Now he was not concerned about becoming a swordsman. He was simply playing. He was definitely not interested in becoming the greatest. When you engage in an activity without asking for anything then fruits that you cannot think of asking can accrue and still you are detached. This greatest is in the eyes of people who are not in Zen, who are still comparing.
The taste of Banzo’s sword is delicious, its content is awareness, and nothing can be more delicious than this sword which cuts asunder all sorrows.