Sunday, September 2, 2007

Life-Giving Sword

I have a small cushion in my room here in Baghdad that I sit zazen on several times a day. During the Zen Buddhist practice I quietly follow my breath, watching my thoughts come and go as if viewing a movie at the theatre. A gentle chime on my laptop the marks the end of the session; a slight bow to those who have gone before me, and I rise from the indigo cushion. The first thing I find myself reaching for is my Sig Sauer P226 9mm handgun resting not far away.

I was struck by this contradiction not long ago. Oddly it took me a while to even recognize it simply because the handgun is just a tool for my job, much like my radio, a Leatherman, and set of white Chuck Taylor high-tops. Once I did recognize the apparent contradiction I felt guilty, as if I was somehow being hypercritical with my practice. I remembered a story.

While I have the historical facts screwed up, the gist of it is a Samurai by the name of Yagyu Munenori was both a renowned swordsman in ancient Japan as well as an equally accomplished Zen Buddhist. He had to deal with the same contradictions. He wrote a book, and in it he told of his “life-giving sword”. Any fool can kill with a sword, but it takes real skill to give life with one. More contradictions.

What ole Yagyu is saying here is that by polishing his skills to such a high degree that he doesn’t ever have to use his weapon, hence “giving the life” that a lesser swordsman would have taken. This according to Yagyu is the real art of swordsmanship. Works for me.

The P226 goes wherever I go. It’s clean and checked several times a day to make sure that it’s in the proper state of readiness. The same goes for my skills with it. I hope that I never have to use the Sig, but if I do I know that it will be in defense of those in danger; “giving a life” where one may have been lost.

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