A History of the FAS Society: Part III

By Masao ABE

From January to March of the next year, 1944, seven or eight interested students gathered weekly at Hoseki-an in Shunko-in [on the grounds of Myoshinji monastery] and discussed the new name and the basic idea of the new association. I mentioned before that our new group was started under Hisamatsu's guidance. But, to be candid with you, I do not think that the expression, "under Hisamatsu's guidance," is a proper one in our case. This is because during our meetings spanning three months, though Hisamatsu set forth his opinions, he usually spent most of the time listening to the opinions of the students and tried to accept them and make the best use of them. It was during the War, and a temporary draft exemption had been abolished the previous fall, and so many students were forced to go to war. Those graduate students who had not departed for the front received their induction notices one by one. The students who gathered at Hoseki-an wanted to continue their studies, but they actually faced the more urgent problem of the nation's crises, as well as their own grave problem: they had to face their own deaths. Therefore, it was quite natural that they gave their minds seriously to the following problems: What is the true life of man? What is the true death of man? In what sense is war justified? Those problems had laid the spiritual basis for our discussions about the new name and the basic idea of the new group. Hisamatsu also was quite serious. We often had long arguments and heated discussions. Students often had to walk all the way from Myoshinji Temple located on the western side of Kyoto to their own homes in the center of Kyoto or on the eastern, mountainous side, at two or three in the morning. During those meetings, Hisamatsu took up the students' problems as his own problems, and then presented his own thoughts. Therefore, I think that those factors, i.e., Hisamatsu's attitude toward the students and the students' responses to him, cannot be fully understood by the word "guidance" in the usual sense of the term. The teacher and the students became one, and in the meetings spontaneously became enthusiastic. It might be said that this is guidance in the true sense.

As a result of those meetings, the group was named Gakudo Dojo, and its basic idea was written in the form of a four-point statement of guiding principles. The word "gakudo" was proposed by one donin (member; literally translated "man of the Way"), and we all consented to it. The word "Gakudo" is derived from Gakudoyojinshu, a work of Dogen's. "Do," the Way, indicates man's fundamental awakening to Reality, which, as mentioned above, goes beyond the bounds of Buddhism. "Gaku," leaning, according to Dogen's way of thinking, can be said to mean to learn one's self, to forget one's self, and to be realized by all Dharmas.

However, Gakudo is more clearly explained in the first sentence of "Our Guiding Principles for Attaining Awakening," which states, "We are determined to attain awakening to the ultimate, great way through critical study and struggling practice, and thereby to participate in the honored work of creatively revitalizing the world." "The ultimate, great way" indicated the "do" of "Gakudo," which is man's fundamental awakening beyond the limits of Buddhism. We made the ultimate, great way the basis from which we come and to which we go. Whether or not we call the "fundamental awakening to Reality universal to man" the "ultimate, great way," such a great way does not exist anywhere objectively. It is the way to be experienced by each one of us with one's whole existence. This is expressed by the words gakkyu gyoshu, or critical study and struggling practice, in the first sentence of "Our Guiding Principles." Then what do we practice? We decided to practice zazen in the formal lotus posture. This does not mean though that we do zazen merely because it has been accepted and practiced in the Zen sect. We thought that zazen was one of the best ways for us to be thorough in realizing man's true way of being.

We also felt that we needed to appreciate the importance of "gaku" (learning as well as of "gyo" (practice). Besides zazen, we tried to shed light ideologically on problems we met there, and tried to clarify theoretically "kaku" (Awakening) in Buddhism. We believed that to do so did not interfere with zazen, that it was necessary for us to deepen zazen in the correct direction and to give it a true power.

In the contemporary world, science has influential power, and there are many standpoints: various Western philosophies, including idealism and rationalism, totalitarianism during the War, and then Marxism, existentialism, and nihilism. They insist upon their own viewpoints, and some of them show in their respective ways what the true life of man is. Accordingly, we could not be indifferent to them. It is true that they have more or less power of influence in the present world, so we could not avoid facing them in our efforts to awaken ourselves to Reality in man. Therefore, even speaking of practice, we felt it necessary for us to be engaged in learning. It is of course possible to attain fundamental awakening to Reality only through thorough zazen samadhi, without confronting the viewpoints and thoughts of others. We did not deny that fact. The problem we faced at that time and at present is whether we can work and solve the present problems of the world only through a realization which is simply based on practice in disregard of those contemporary thought and modern learning. The various standpoints of our time are not merely working outside of us. They are influential standpoints in this present world, which means that there is something living inside of us which meets and responds to them. In order to awaken to ourselves, to Reality, we, while living in this present world, cannot avoid confronting that something in us. Only through such confrontation can the fundamental awakening have its true significance for the present world. Although practice has its meaning and power, there may be something blind in practice with no learning. That is why we felt the necessity of learning as well as practice.

One the other hand, "learning" does not mean to study objectively Western philosophy or Buddhist thought as a system of thought. Today there are many who are engaged, for example in Buddhist Studies, the study of religion, and philosophy, but in many cases they intend to study them historically or philologically. Even those who study to dogmatics and religious though study them as one system of though or dogma. Such students tend to study them objectively somewhat apart from their own existential self-understanding. This is what we have always been dissatisfied with when we study them. When it comes to studying such subjects as Buddhism, religion, or philosophy, I believe the importance in studying them rests in the self-awakening of students to themselves. Unlike the case of learning physics or economics, these studies cannot be said to be true leaning when such learning is separate from the researcher's own existential awakening. To speak more explicitly, such learning should always be based on practice. Learning without practice, though not blind, must be powerless. Therefore, we thought it was essential for us to practice as well as study. This is the explanation of the meaning of "attain awakening to the ultimate, great way through critical study and struggling practice." This is why we decided to have discussions as well as zazen practice.

There are many difficulties, however, and even some danger regarding the implementation of Gakugyo ichinyo (the oneness of learning and practice). Even so, it is they way which despite its difficulties must be carried out. Practice without learning is liable to become blind practice. Learning without practice is liable to be powerless. It is the age of change, and old systems have been destroyed. And it is the time of the encounter between East and West. At this time, the need for such a way as gakugyo ichinyo is keenly felt.

(To be continued)

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Last updated: 5/25/1996