See also the first part of this blog series: Between You and I (Part I of II)
Shame – a coordinate and the reflection to reality
Consider the following:
For, Izukawa had specifically been designated by the Emperor as the Master Swordsman, the one who, as legend holds, had single-handedly defeated the three Katanoye brothers in a duel which left the eldest decapitated, the middle one without his sword & arm, and the youngest without a discernible face. All within a span of an hour, and without a single wound. Yet, before the noon of this particular day, Master Izukawa – the one whom, as he walked down main street of the Ishidori District of the bustling city, the peasants, the shopkeepers, the men and women of every class and structure, would bow, and bow lower than even he felt comfortable; for he was the Master Samurai, the one who could kill for a reason, or no reason; all with the assent of the Emperor. At noon, he received the ransom letter – it detailed his actions as a young man; actions which he had relegated to the deep, secreted recesses of his mind. Before noon, he had possessed the self-image of an invincible Master Samurai; but the Master Samurai has by necessity a personal image, hidden behind the mask of an impervious and emotionless face, for the samurai neither reveals emotion, nor unveils the eyes which reveal the emotion; then there is the public identity; the watchful eyes of the non-samurai class who sees the samurai as the protector, the feared warrior who could arbitrarily end one’s life with no fear of retribution; the one who lives by the Bushido Code. For the Samurai’s code provided fixed coordinates – of behavior; of thoughts; of correspondence between one’s grasping of karma and the events which unfold in the dream in which we walk, the dream of a butterfly, fleeting and delicate, yet harsh in the reality of death and the sharp edge of a samurai’s sword. For Izukawa, the fixed coordinates included a public persona of a person who was without fear, who had summarily defeated three swords with the sharp edge of one. Yes, in his personal “I”, he knew of a shame; and the shame, if revealed, would fail to correspond to the public coordinates which are fixed by the Emperor.
He could find the “other” who knew and who sent him the ransom letter, and kill him; or he could commit seppuku. Either act would not change the fixed coordinates, for his karma had already been determined long before, just as the butterfly already dreamed the dream which controlled his fate, and the gods dreamed of the butterfly who dreamed the dream which controlled his fate.
Once, in the dream of another butterfly, Princess Sakumito gave him the honored gift before going into battle against the Katanoye brothers – a duel which everyone, including the Emperor, had expected would end with his death. Indeed, he suspected that the Emperor had pre-arranged his death, and was prepared to consolidate his power by offering Izukawa, whom many had considered to be an unknown quantity, a loner and a pawn in a complex political climate when the power of the Shogunate was being crafted in delicate steps, a cherry blossom opening in the morning dew of a Zen garden. The gift of a teardrop. It was, for Izukawa, a foreign sensation.
From childhood, of the Daikusu clan, he was destined to be a warrior. Left with the Zen Monks at age 3, Izukawa was trained to become a master of the sword: to meditate; to fear nothing; to master the sword; to serve the Emperor. Training to be a samurai meant long hours of disciplining the body and the mind; the discipline of the former was an easy task; it was always the latter which presented a question. The tests implemented were harsh and brutal – for a child, it often meant near death. Though the ‘sword’ was merely a bamboo pole slit so that when it hit the flesh, the slits would open and catch the body upon impact, then close and tear the skin off when pulled away; for a young boy, the pain of such raw separation of flesh from body left deep ravages. Pain became a daily confrontation; avoidance of pain taught young Izu to be quick. Quickness is taught; while some may have inherent swiftness, pain is a master teacher which enhances that inherent swiftness. For most young boys, swiftness was learned in order to avoid pain; for young Izu, he learned first to bear pain; then, once mastered, he disciplined his mind to welcome pain, to embrace it, to savor and to gently preserve it; and only then did he allow himself to fight to avoid pain. Pain first was his friend; as would be fear.
The beauty of a butterfly is felt in its silent flow of grace, where color flutters effortlessly in a deafening roar of silence; for in the very soundless folding and unfolding of its wings, mirroring a sensu held with delicate ease in the palm of a Kyoto-trained geisha, opened in fullness in unfolding quietude, then as a stream guided back to its essence; or as the fingers strum the shamisen in the still dawn to evoke neither music nor rest, but a twilight as marked by the flowing entrance to a Shinto Shrine, where the kami resides; and it is here that the warrior became a swordsman; the swordsman became a master; and the master became a legend.
Ah, but that legends should die, as worms and other creatures found within the crevasses of soil and filth; so the truth of the blood which coursed through his veins, Izukawa could not rid of. Once, while still at the Zen monastery, young Izu witnessed a gaijin enter the sacred grounds; a krish-chan, a priest in black, who spoke his language, but with a haughtiness of oral delivery unbecoming of one who was neither a warrior nor a Zen master.
“Who was he, Master?” young Izu asked humbly, eyes cast down, after the gaijin had departed. He could feel the piercing eyes of his teacher searching, perhaps with his customary mocking grin, as one who reads the essence of his soul through the tonal unfolding of his voice, words, and wisdom of ages.
“The young butterfly inquires, but to what end?” The master responded. Izu could not detect whether the question to the questioner was asked in an admonishing manner, with sincere inquisitiveness, or with cunning mockery. With the Master, any one, or all three together, could be contained in a single sentence.
“I just wanted to know.”
“To know for knowledge’s own sake, without an end?”
“That would indeed be strange, but that would mean that the answer given would have no end, as life would not end in death, nor birth in life, nor mind in consciousness, nor…”
The silence of the trailing statement meant that the Master was engaging in the third of the tripartite avenues; of cunning mockery; he quickly looked askance at his Master, and saw the glint of mischief in his Master’s soul; young Izu now knew how to proceed with his Master.
“But does a gaijin have consciousness, as he is less than human? Can he therefore have true life, as he was not truly born a man? Can he have the mark of a man, of honor and shame, if he cannot be a warrior?”
These questions, Izukawa remembered in his youth. The shame which he had attributed then to the gaijin was not of his making, and of course, even as a youth, he recognized that fact; but the karma which governed the krish-chan’s life was the same which determined his own, and in that sense neither mattered. But shame, for a samurai, was a reality; it was the disjointed disharmony which arose between that which is seen, that which is known, and that which is perceived. It is a cultural judgment, a potential corrective action by a community upon an emerging discordance – between you and I. For you see me as X as I have conveyed to you the X; but there is a Y coordinate which I have either failed to disclose, or deliberately covered. When that Y coordinate emerges, and is finally uncovered; as the being of “I” presents itself in the full clothing of truth; when revelation unfolds, in that moment when the geisha unravels the sensu and pushes the warm air of the summer evening to brush upon the forming droplets of sweat – perspiration formed in the heat of the season, or the anxiety of truth, for truth is indeed an angst, an anxiety-stricken state of being, an explosion of tension built up from an admixture of object, coordinates, perception, personality, language, the depths of human complexity formed by a chasm deep and mysterious, a strangeness and tension lost by love, between you and I.
“What is truth?” the Master asked. Young Izu immediately suspected that this was a koan. But the Master did not turn away; instead, he looked upon the young lad with eyes anticipating a response. He hesitated. “It is, well, it is…”
“It is, above all else, not easy.”
“But should not truth be simple?”
“Is the village simpleton easy to direct? Or is simplicity the most difficult to grasp? To attain truth, one must have the perspective of the kami – neither of you, nor of I; not a man’s view, but a view based upon a removal of one’s self. This is the true nature of a Zen Master – not to answer a koan rightly, but to answer it without the self. And, young Izu – remember that shame is the surest path to truth.”
These thoughts rushed through as the kami rushes through the valleys of his village, swirling around the green moss growing upon the rocks of the Eh-Daiji Temple. The Emperor, noble and great in his position, was constrained by his culture and society. His society required his subjects to possess a purity of coordinates – from the Emperor’s perspective; the public reputation of Izukawa; the known reputation of his warrior samurai. Yet, Izukawa recognized that he was the same man before receiving the information about his past; the sense of shame resulted from his knowledge, lost to a relegated past, in conflict with the human perspective of “the other”, now revealed within the historicity of the time he lives in. But truth was not necessarily that which would explode in full authenticity at a given time in history; it might take generations before it would come to fruition. Shame was the tension which would force the truth to emerge. For the butterfly, beauty would never fade, for moral judgments could not be made upon such beauty. It was only for man – between you and I. Shame was for man, for shame was the arbiter of human secrecy – that act which was a conscious and deliberate act by a man to conceal. But the thoughtful act to conceal was the same consciousness of man which forced him to reveal – shame. For shame merged the coordinates of human consciousness, the objective world as I perceive it; as you perceive it; and the attempt to conceal truth.
Izukawa knew what he would have to do. He would disappear, and roam the countryside as a ronin. He would find his extorter and kill him. In the process, his shame may be revealed; but as the truth would be revealed, it would be his shame which would reveal it.
A World Without Shame – Leaving only I
We live in a world of “I”s. We are shame-less. The exponential explosion of information, the complete abandonment of objective coordinates, the total embracing of subjectivity, has resulted in the inverse but victorious consequence of Syme’s vision of the world: “The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect”; or, conversely, it will be complete when there is utter imperfection. Thought has become thoughtless because the infinite world of information has come to fruition; there can be no truth where shame does not exist; shame is the surest path to truth. It is the guiding principle between you, I and the world “out there”. For, if it was merely between you and I, we would be battling between the power of your subjectivity as opposed to mine. The world I perceive and the one you perceive must have a corrective principle. Once, when legends no longer explained, and myths no longer persuaded, Truth was thought to be the prevailing compass, and the guiding coordinate. For brief centuries, the primacy of Truth prevailed; but just as legends faded and myths merely entertained, Truth became replaced with information, and information resulted in deconstruction, meaninglessness, and the loss of Being.
Being became merely a language game. Yet, there would one day come an age of resurgence. The uncovering of Being was always an inevitability, and as shame is the surest path to Truth, the convergence of Man, Shame and Truth was only a matter of time, between you and I.
Years later, the decapitated head of a man was found in a ditch a few miles south of the Eh-Daiji Temple. The grotesque, gargoyle-like expression, frozen in timelessness, purple tongue jutting out with eyes white and rolled upwards in fear and agony, Kyoji Katanoye was the fourth and last brother. He had died in fear. He had attempted to avenge the shame of his three brothers’ deaths, only to fail at the hands of the Master Samurai, of whom legend holds became a faceless ronin, wandering the countryside, emerging when necessity arose, as when the soft wings of a butterfly became trapped in the thorny bushes of concealed human stories of shame.
See also: Between You and I (Part I of II)