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Do: The Way

by Dave Lowry

Japanese culture is best represented in the "Way" paradigms such as kado (flower arrangement), shodo (calligraphy), budo (martial exercises), chado (the tea ceremony), Shinto (the Way of the gods), Shikijima-no-michi (the Way of poetry), and so on. These Ways are the common product in their respective lines of the creative efforts of many masters, generation after generation, accumulating progressively the best forms and techniques as well as the correct spirit to serve an education purpose on the one hand and the acceleration of the creative urge on the other. It is, therefore, nothing but a waste of time and energy to neglect the existence of these Ways. A casual glance at the Ways of Japan gives one an idea they are nothing but so many different formalisms. But a further practical analysis will enable one to find them as the most effective composition of the most carefully observed and the most logically related facts avoiding through the most careful scrutiny all possible shortcomings as well as extravagances. Each step has its definite meanings and logical reasons and a careless neglect of even one of them will spoil the whole affair, no matter however completely the rest is carried out. Every step of the Way is systematically organized so that anyone can attain to the degree of skillfulness according to his personal capacity with the least loss of energy. Only a master genius can add something to a given Way, thus contributing to the progress of the Way through the combined efforts of masters of all ages. Therefore the Way should not be regarded as a mere gathering of forms, and techniques since it is the spiritual symposium of the great masters enlightening all ages with their accumulated cultural inheritance.

The training of disciples in the Way is very severe, following painful discipline and trials so that only those people who are really worthy enough to receive the secrets from the highest master can follow it. The intention is to test the disciples in a way that a parent lion tests the strength and courage of its cub by kicking it down a ravine. The kind of discipline and trials is of course different according to the lines of culture, but they have something in common as a prerequisite before becoming masters. The prerequisites are: complete obedience to the higher masters, the death-defying desire for learning and the complete self-responsibility for the Way. The masters also have something in common among them, such as their complete negation of the sense of ego. They share an identification with the larger community life. They share a complete detachment from their own technical achievements. They share a recourse to Nature as the best ideal type of their cultural creation and so they realize a stage of achievement where their art identifies maker and community, the Gods and nature, as indivisible unities.

These masters, no matter what line of culture they belong to, are usually indistinguishable from the rest of the people until they are required to express themselves through their creations just as a drum is made to produce sound which varies according to the degree of strength applied by the beater. This strange return of the masters after a long journey of painful discipline together with technical acquirements, back to Nature and humanity, is one of the most typical characteristics of Japanese culture. A purposive expression of their own personal acquirements and abilities is regarded as a shortcoming to the perfection and is branded as snobbish. It was out of this tendency that there came into existence the so-called "Furyu culture" as the most superior form of cultural enjoyment which can be shared by masters and commonfolk alike. Thus the masters, long after their existence of complete detachment from Nature and humanity, have found the way for the common people to achieve unity with Nature and humanity. These Ways are welcomingly open, as much to the outsiders as to the Japanese themselves.

The Ways lead us to the very center of humanity and Nature itself, through the process of transcending both. That is because the Ways are transcendental and at the same time immanent by nature, neither platonic nor merely material, but they are the ways of creative action for building up a world of culture of their own. The actual creation of a world of culture is what constitutes the real value of the existence of humanity and nature. It is their raison d'Ítre. Thus, humanity and Nature have been discovered and rediscovered, created and recreated, again and again by masters who have an infinite love for these two and a death-defying desire to put their love into practical form. The culture we enjoy here on this plane is nothing but the image of the transcendental world which the masters reveal through their creative action. Each step of the Way leads us nearer to the summit and opens up new perspectives of the lower planes. The steps of the Way are the result of undaunted efforts of masters who are able to catch eternity in a moment and the universe in a small spot through their creation. The higher we rise on those steps of the Way of cultural creation, the higher the world also rises with us.

About the Author

Dave Lowry is a writer and historian specializing in Japan and traditional Japanese culture. He has been a student of the modern and classical martial disciplines of Japan since 1968 - including karate, aikido, the bo and kenjitsu. His columns have appeared for years in a variety of martial arts magazines and he is also an accomplished calligrapher. His books include "Sword and Brush - The Spirit of the Martial Arts" and "Autumn Lightning: The Education of an American Samurai".

This article was edited. Printed with permission of Dave Lowry. Copyright © Dave Lowry. All rights reserved.

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