John Cage – Ryoanji
A beautiful, if chilling album of eerily atonal woodwind phrases and
sparse percussive punctuation, the closest to traditional Japanese music
I have heard of Cage recordings. an hour long track of indeterminate No
Theater, like the proverbial moon lit night in Asian ghost stories where
the borders between this world and the next is perilously thin and then
altogether vanish, in which wispy shadows and transluscent spirits make
their presence, and their woe, known to mortals.
while listening to this, I could not help but think of the idealized and
romantic view of Japanese Zen Buddhism through the Western eye.
particularly, I wonder if Cage was familiar with the blood curdling
history of Japanese Zen’s close relationship to Imperialism,
nationalism, and unspeakable war-time atrocities of early 20th Century.
I wonder if he knew or even studied with any of the enlightened Zen
Masters who waxed poetic, in the language of Buddhism, about the virtues of torture, rape, and murder on a mass scale.
excuse my digression on this extremely disturbing yet very important
topic — it has been, and still is, largely ignored and repressed by
spiritual institutions world wide.
it has just been brought to my attention that Cage learned what he knew
about Zen from Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, several encounters with whom is
described in Indeterminacy. and D.T. Suzuki was one of the instrumental
spiritual proponents of the rise of Japanese nationalism, fascism, and
milliatarization. he is extensively talked about in Zen At War.
The noted Zen writer D. T. Suzuki’s early writing reflected the
influence of Soen’s teachings. (To be fair, by 1940, Suzuki had changed
his tune considerably). In 1896 as the war with China began, he wrote,
religion should, first of all, seek to preserve the existence of the
state. Like his teacher, he saw the enemies of Japan as unruly
heathens who needed to be tamed and conquered or who would otherwise interrupt the progress of humanity. In the name of religion, our
country could not submit to this. Going to war, he called religious
conduct. Suzuki used poetic language in praise of Japanese soldiers.
Our soldiers regard their own lives as being as light as goose feathers
while their devotion to duty is as heavy as Mount Taishan (in China).
Should they fall on the battlefields, they have no regrets. This
metaphor of goose feathers would become a major point of military
indoctrination, teaching recruits and the young kamikaze (divine wind)
pilots that their individual lives were meaningless and had no weight.
Only total devotion to the emperor would give their existence meaning.
Suzuki also popularized the bushido concept of the sword that gives
life that was used over and over again to rationalize killing. Years
later, the Japanese ambassador would use this phrase on the sword that
gives life in a speech at Hilter’s chancellery in Berlin following the
signing of the Tripartite Pact on September 27, 1940.
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