Military Art vs. the Power of Love ...An Historical Incident of Old Japan

In November, in the 13th year of Kanyei (1636), a Korean ambassador came to pay tribute to the Third Shogun Tokugawa Iyemitsu. He presented to the shogun various Korean products, among which was a living tiger.

One day, the Shogun went to see the tiger in the Fukiage Garden of the Castle of Yedo, with hundreds of his retainers.

The young Shogun, in vigorous spirits, sat near the verandah in front, with hundreds of feudal lords sitting on both sides of him in gorgeous attire. Takuan-Osho, a Buddhist priest, and Yagyu Munenori, a feudal lord, were among them.

Presently, the tiger, in a pen, was brought before them. It was about 5 feet in height. Every person knew tigers only in pictures, and had seen no living one. So they gazed at it with great curiosity.

The Shogun was interested in its yellow fur with black stripes. "How fine its fur is for its wild nature!" he said to his attendants, "can any of you go and touch it?"

No one rose in response to the rash order.

"Does it look so fierce to you?" cried the Shogun with a displeased look. So saying, he looked on both sides and noticed Yagyu Munenori. "Do you think it so, too, Yagyu?" he inquired.

When the tiger was presented to the Shogun, Munenori was at the age of 66.

In reply to the question of the lord, the veteran said, "All fierce animals are said to be tamed to men, when long kept in pens, and not do harm to the feeder, but it would be dangerous to carelessly touch a wild tiger coming from a distance and not tamed as yet."

The lord was not satisfied with this reply.

"You speak of an animal-charmer, I suppose," he said. "You are a master swordsman known as a god of military arts and ought to be able to overawe the tiger by a shout of swordsmanship."

Munenori replied that he could perhaps do so by dint of swordsmanship, but that he was too advanced in age to do such a thing with the animal in the presence of his lord.

"Never mind, never mind, Munenori," shouted the Shogun. "When you succeed it will do credit to the virtues of Japanese swordsmanship and will be an honor to Japan abroad."

Munenori could no longer decline. He saluted the Shogun and the others and rose quietly. With an iron fan in hand, he approached the tiger which saw him and suddenly grew fierce. Munenori stood before the pen, which he ordered the gardener to open. "Is it safe to open?" inquired the gardener, who was afraid. "It is safe,' replied Munenori. The gardener still hesitated. "Don't be afraid, make haste," cried the hot-tempered and stout hearted Shogun, showing his resolution to come and visit the tiger himself, if Munenori flinched. At this, the gardener opened the pen, trembling. The tiger held itself in readiness to leap out, but Munenori stood close to the entrance. He then entered the pen fearlessly, holding out the iron fan in front. All looked on with breathless interest, and the Korean commissioners stared in amazement.

The animal became furious. But Munenori remained calm. He edged along, holding out the iron fan in front pointing it at the animal's eye. It gave a roar. Munenori having his eye upon its breathing, fixed his iron fan at its forehead and gave a shout. As if electrified, the tiger drew back its head, while its eyes glared with fury. The people were astonished. Munenori shouted once more, when the animal, fierce as it was, bent its forelegs and stooped with its jaw on the floor. Munenori gave a smile of satisfaction and got out of the pen composedly.

"Bravo! You are truly the god of military arts," cried the Shogun in admiration.

The Korean commissioners marvelled at it more than the others.

Munenori came back and took his former seat modestly. He prostrated himself before the lord as if he were ashamed of the feat as a useless show of his ability.

"You have done well, Lord Yagyu," said Priest Takuan.

"I am ashamed of it as an unbecoming act for an aged man like me," replied Munenori modestly.

"No, no! It is an act sure to make Japanese military arts glorious in foreign lands as one of its virtues as our Uyesama (the Shogun) rightly told you," the Priest commented, "I have been in friendly intercourse with you for many years, but have never before seen such a display of your skill."

As Takuan had spoken of Yagyu's high military proficiency in hearty admiration, the Shogun asked him, half in fun, what was Buddhistic virtue worth on the same occasion. "Nothing must be more satisfactory to you, the generalissimo of Japan, than to see such a splendid show of military virtue, and it is last that a Buddhistic virtue is sought for," replied the Priest with a laugh.

When asked again by the lord, Takuan explained that Buddhistic virtue is shown only when it is beyond the attainment of military virtue and that although Yagyu practiced Dhyana, (Dhyana is one of the Buddhist meditation exercises which are practiced to achieve higher realization) yet he had crushed the fierce animal by means of shouts of swordsmanship, in which he was mainly skilled, it being impossible to hope for the same thing from Buddhism.

"I have learned that it is the virtue of Buddhism to redeem all beings. Is it difficult to save the tiger as one without an affinity?" inquired the cynical Shogun.

"No," replied the Priest. "Any fierce animal can be saved by unbounded Buddhistic virtue, for all have the Buddhist nature. But there is a difference between crushing and saving."

The Shogun asked if the Priest could save the animal, instead of crushing it.

"Having myself no infinite virtue of Buddhism, it would be impossible for me to save the animal, but I think I can tame it at least," replied Takuan.

"That is very good," said the Shogun with interest. "The animal has been crushed by Yagyu by virtue of his swordsmanship, and if you could tame it by virtue of Buddhism, it would be the greatest national glory in foreign countries. I earnestly wish you to try at once, Takuan."

The Priest laughed and said, "It may not be so interesting or glorious. As you wish it, however, let me tame the animal."

He saluted the Shogun and other people and went down to the yard quite unpreparedly.

Priest Takuan learned Buddhism in the Daitoku temple of the Zen Sect, Kyoto, and became enlightened. He grew famous in the country. In the 13th year of Keicho (1608), when he was at the age of 35, he was invited by Toyotomi Hideyori, son of Hideyosi, to the Osaka Castle. But he declined to go. Later, he was exiled to the Province of Dewa, accused of disobeying an order of the Tokugawa Government. He stayed there until he grew old, and was then pardoned by the third Shogun Iyemitsu on account of his old age, being ordered to be in Yedo. Yagyu Munenori had great faith in him and practiced Dhyana under him. It was due to his efforts that he was pardoned.

The Shogun attained proficiency in fencing under Yagyu. In fencing, he was very strong in the offensive, but weak in the defensive, which often defeated him in contests with men of strong character. The young and spirited Shogun always complained of his weak point to Munenori.

Munenori spoke to his lord unreservedly, saying it was owing to lack of his mental cultivation and advised him to practice Dhyana. This advice was accepted and Priest Takuan was appointed the master of Buddhism to the Shogun, through Munenori's recommendation.

The Priest, who went down from the verandah, walked straight to the tiger and himself opened the pen. When the gardener tried to stay him, in surprise, he had half entered the pen.

The tiger became angry again at the intrusion of a stranger, and roared. Fearless and smiling the Priest entered the pen and closed it himself, after which he stood before the tiger, turning up his sleeves.

The people opened their eyes in amazement at his boldness, being unable to guess what he intended to do. The tiger at first appeared ready to spring at the intruder, but far from taking the offensive, it stepped back with its back raised and rounded like a rock, overwhelmed by the Priest's familiar airs.

The Priest bent a little forward and suddenly thrust out his left hand before the nose of the animal. This did not irritate it, but, on the contrary, it licked the hand tamely.

Yahyu Munenori, who intently gazed at this, sighed and lowered his head unconsciously, struck with admiration. The Shogun and all others were stricken dumb by the wonderful spectacle.

The Priest then stroked the animal on the head as if it were his pet dog, at which it lay down like a puppy and played with him.

The Priest laughed merrily and sat astride the tiger.

The event deepened the Shogun's faith and respect of Takuan. He could not, however, comprehend the reason why the animal was so tamed. He questioned Yagyu Munenori.

The master swordsman replied that the mystery of swordsmanship coincides with the enlightenment of the Zen sect as had been always elucidated by him, but that in fighting with a weapon, one cannot slacken one's attention in the least, for it often ends in a simultaneous stroke by the opponent, but for one who has attained the perfection of Zen meditation and the stage of ecstasy, even deities can find no chance to attack, to say nothing of animals, and especially, Priest Takuan's attitude, full of love, and not hostile in the least, shown before the tiger was enough to make it gentle to him.

As he spoke, Munenori was heartily ashamed of his unskilled and imperfect art, when compared with the priest's enlightenment.

The Shogun admired Munenori, who spoke his true feeling plainly and sincerely, while he was impressed with the profound enlightenment of Takuan. His mental culture in Buddhism had evidently a fruitful effect on his state administration. He often told his retainers that it was the gift of Takuan and Yagyu that he could administer the state somehow or other.

The Shogun constructed a Buddhist temple at Shinagawa, Yedo, and gave it to Takuan in the 15th year of Kanyei (1638), two years after the tiger affair. Since then, the temple has been known as the Mansho-zan Tokaiji. The Shogun ordered Kobori Totomino-Kami, a famous tea ceremony adept and landscape-gardener, to build a garden and a tea-room in the temple. During the lifetime of Takuan, he often visited him.

Two years later, in the 2nd year of Shoho (1645), Takuan passed away in the temple at the age of 73, and in the year following, Yagyu Munenori died at the age of 76. The Shogun personally visited their sick-beds. This fact shows the great affection he had for them.

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